Senator DeWitte: Legislative Session was Partisan Assault on Individuals’ Rights

Published in the Daily Herald on Friday, November 5:

When Illinoisans go to the polls, they select individuals who will serve as their legislative voice when public policy decisions are made.

The recently-completed fall veto session in Springfield showcased a significant shift in where political loyalties lie at the state level. The best interests and opinions of constituents were cast aside, as statehouse Democrats used their supermajority to push through an aggressive agenda. From attacks on parental rights, the removal of protections against discrimination in the workplace, another gerrymandered map that strengthens Democrats’ power and gives voters fewer choices at the polls, and the blocking of Republican bills that directly address the statewide surge in violent crime, Illinoisans witnessed new levels of brazen partisan politics over the two-week veto session.

The Parental Notice of Abortion Act (PNA) and the Healthcare Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA) are two areas of law that came under attack during veto session. Both statutes were put in place to protect Illinoisans against government interference and overreach, yet these important laws were dismantled in ways that diminish the parent-child relationship and reduce protections for workers in the workplace.

I believe a parent has no more important role than to protect their children’s medical and emotional health as kids navigate life’s most difficult decisions. The legislature has put a multitude of laws in place over the years that dictate at what age children can engage in a variety of activities taking into account their maturity and good judgement. To put that into context, a girl cannot get a tattoo, go to a tanning bed, or get her ears pierced, but under the repeal of the PNA, she can undergo a major medical procedure without even informing her parent or guardian.

Thousands of parents objected to the repeal of PNA. They were ignored. Now Illinois is one of just a few states that believes it is OK for girls as young as 11 to get an abortion without a parent or guardian knowing about it.

The HCRCA, which has been on the books for decades, prohibits any form of discrimination against individuals who refuse to take part in any healthcare service or procedure that is contrary to a person’s religious beliefs, morals, or convictions. But when Governor Pritzker unilaterally put vaccine mandates in place for many Illinois businesses and fields, Illinoisans pushed back and pointed to protections guaranteed in the HCRCA. Rather than adjust his mandate to fit within the confines of existing law, the Governor decided a better option was to create a carveout within the HCRCA relative to COVID-19. On the larger scale, this is not about vaccines. It’s about a dangerous precedent that says it’s OK to whittle away at discrimination protections for Illinois workers.

As the effort to amend the HCRCA moved through the review process, an unprecedented level of public engagement unfolded, as more than 54,000 everyday Illinoisans filed digital witness slips in opposition to the bill. Never before has there been such widespread community outrage to a legislative initiative. Never before have so many individual Illinoisans felt so strongly that they placed their anger and opposition into the official record. Illinoisans were clear in their message to lawmakers: do not go down the path of carving out exceptions that diminish protections for workers in the workplace. Do not infringe on our rights to make decisions that align with our religious beliefs and moral convictions. Democrats ignored this public mandate, and instead said it is OK for people to be discriminated against in the workplace and even to lose their job if they do not submit to the heavy hand of state government.

While parents’ and people’s rights were diminished in a matter of days, what wasn’t addressed in the 5-day session was the surge in violent crime that makes people across the state feel unsafe in their communities. Senate Republicans filed a package of public safety legislation several weeks ago that would get illegal guns off the street and put violent criminals behind bars. But at the same time the majority party was bending to the Governor’s wishes, legislative initiatives that would address the root causes of the spike in crime in all Illinois communities were denied hearings. Efforts to strengthen criminal penalties and improve public safety were ignored.

All of this brazen action (and inaction) is made possible because of a legislative map-drawing process that allows Democrats to draw legislative districts that protect and grow their power. Because they choose the constituents they want to represent, there is no accountability. There is no need to listen to what your constituents want and then vote accordingly. Sadly, Illinoisans’ voices are no longer deemed relevant by majority party politicians. They don’t listen to their constituents because they don’t have to.

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