By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday vetoed a bill that would have provided paid administrative leave for public school and university employees who miss work due to COVID-19-related issues and instead negotiated “compromise” legislation that would provide such leave to only those who are fully vaccinated.
“Vaccines are a vital tool in preventing the deadly effects of COVID-19, and those who take the steps to be fully vaccinated against this virus are doing their part to keep everyone safe,” Pritzker said in his veto message. “They deserve to be able to take the time they need to respond to the ongoing devastating impacts the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on them and their families.”
House Bill 2778 passed the General Assembly during the fall veto session with wide bipartisan majorities, 53-1 in the Senate and 92-23 in the House.
It would have provided paid leave for any employee, including support staff and contractors, who missed work because they or someone in their household contracted COVID-19, if they or a family member was forced to stay home because they’d been in close contact with someone who had tested positive, or if they could not work because the school building was closed due to COVID-19.
To be eligible, however, the bill provided that the employee must either have been vaccinated or participated in the COVID-19 testing program provided by the district.
In September, Pritzker issued an executive order requiring school personnel to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. But his veto action Monday means that those who choose not to be vaccinated will not be eligible for paid administrative leave.
Since that bill passed, however, Pritzker said he has been negotiating with teachers unions and other groups to negotiate a different package with a stronger vaccine requirement.
“Numerous organizations are impacted by this legislation, and my administration has listened closely to all of them, including lawmakers and our partners at the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, parents, school districts, community colleges and universities,” he said in his veto message. “Through a collaborative, cooperative process, we have negotiated an initiative that will provide paid administrative leave for teachers who, despite doing all they can to keep themselves and their communities safe, continue to have their lives and livelihoods disrupted by COVID-19.”
Under that initiative, which still needs legislative approval, public school and university employees would receive paid administrative leave if they are fully vaccinated and they or their child is required to be excluded from school because of a positive COVID-19 test or have been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
It also maintains the wage protections in HB2778 for all hourly school employees – including custodians, bus drivers, food service workers, classroom assistants and administrative staff – who miss work because the school building they’re assigned to is closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak. That protection would be retroactive for the entire 2021-2022 academic year.
“Keeping schools open and those inside them – and their families – safe has been our number one priority from the start of the pandemic,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said in a news release. “We want people to stay home when they’re sick, to be able to care for their children when their children need them the most, and to be paid when the circumstances that close their buildings are completely beyond their control.”
“The pandemic has been physically, emotionally, and economically challenging for us all, and certainly no less so for educators, school staff, and their families,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery. “This legislation provides important relief and ensures that education personnel can afford to take time off if they or they families become ill with COVID.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.