Bill securing sick leave for vaccinated teachers heads to Pritzker’s desk

A proposal heading to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk could retroactively give paid sick leave to fully...
A proposal heading to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk could retroactively give paid sick leave to fully vaccinated teachers, staff and contractors.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 9:15 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Fully vaccinated employees in Illinois public schools, public universities, and community colleges could retroactively receive sick leave if they contracted COVID-19 under a bill awaiting Governor JB Pritzker’s signature.

House Bill 1167 passed out of the Senate on a partisan 32-18 vote Thursday. It now heads to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk for his signature of approval.

Teachers, staff, and contractors could be eligible for full compensation for any shift that they missed only if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

A similar plan gained bipartisan support last year to provide sick leave to all teachers and staff who contract COVID-19 and miss work.

House Bill 2778 passed 53-1 in the Senate on October 27 and 92-23 on October 28 although Pritzker vetoed that proposal and worked with the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers to reach an agreement.

The latest proposal covers vaccinated workers missing work because they are a close contact or have COVID-19 symptoms. It also applies to any vaccinated staff who need to take care of children or other loved ones who contract COVID-19.

“There’s no requirement that one be vaccinated to work in public schools,” said Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park). “It is, however, essentially an incentive: if you take an affirmative step to be better prepared to be in the school, you get a new benefit.”

Sponsors also noted that anyone with a medical or religious exemption from getting vaccinated could also get the additional sick leave. Any sick leave previously used by a teacher or other school employee during the 2021-2022 school year can be returned to them if they are fully vaccinated.

The same opportunity is still available for school staff who choose to get vaccinated within five weeks after Pritzker signs the bill into law. A provision of the bill also explains schools cannot rescind any sick leave returned to employees if they are fully vaccinated.

“It seemed like this was a requirement by the governor’s office,” said Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). “And it seemed to put some people in an unfair position.”

Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie also stressed concerns about the legislation. He noted that Pritzker has consistently tried to put a vaccine mandate in schools. McConchie noted that some courts tossed out that executive order. The Hawthorn Woods Republican argued this is another attempt for Pritzker to have the mandate in law.

“This is going to be treating two different employees who are under the same collective bargaining agreement in a school differently,” McConchie said. “Some getting benefits, some not based kind of on the personal decisions that they make and their reasons for doing so are going to be personal.”

He argued two teachers may end up in a situation where they both have children who get sick with COVID-19. McConchie said one of the teachers will be able to take off work to care for their child while the other cannot. He argued it is wrong for the General Assembly to be involved in those decisions.

President Harmon reiterated that this would not be a vaccine mandate.

“To the collective bargaining point, two members of the same collective bargaining unit, one of whom who is pursuing a master’s degree and one of whom is not, the one who is pursuing the master’s degree will be paid more under the same terms of the agreement. This to me is analogous,” Harmon said. “If you are taking an affirmative step to be better prepared to be in the classroom or in the school, you have an enhanced benefit.”

This plan passed out of the House on a 70-28 vote on March 1. Six representatives voted present.

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