(The Center Square) – A controversial bill that would codify the ability for the Illinois State Board of Education to punish local school districts for not following health guidance such as COVID-19 executive orders has been assigned to a committee.

State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., D-Chicago, is the sponsor of the House Bill 4135. He said he’s been in talks with Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration and the Board of Education about the bill. It was assigned to the House Rules Committee Friday.

Critics of the bill say it acknowledges ISBE doesn’t have the authority it is wielding by putting schools on probation for not following mask mandates.

Gonzalez said that’s not the case.

“It just reinforces and adds policy to it,” Gonzalez said. “It just removes any ambiguity to it and just puts it explicitly into statute.”

State Rep. Adam Niemerg opposes mask mandates. He said Gonzalez’s bill is a power grab.

“It takes away authority from school boards,” Niemerg said. “And at the end of the day, what’s the point of having anybody on the school board if these kinds of bills are going to be passed by the Legislature. I believe in local control.”

The measure has received attention, Gonzalez said. While his constituents seem OK with it, he said he’s gotten messages from all over the state from people who are wary of the bill.

"Our emails, our calls, my social media comments and messages have definitely been blowing up with people expressing some feedback,” Gonzalez said. “Some cordial, some not, but you get a mix of everything.”

Gonzalez said he may try to bring the bill up during veto session in October, depending on other priorities.

Niemerg expects a flood of opposition as there was to House Bill 2789, which had more than 16,000 witness slips were filed in opposition by individuals and groups.

“I see tremendous opposition in that particular bill,” Niemerg said. “I have emails constantly even in my district in the 109th in southeast Illinois. The people are fed up. They want choice, and they want change.”

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.