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House passes paid leave for vaccinated teachers

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Rep. Janet Yang Rohr argues in favor of a bill that would give K-12 and higher education employees who are fully vaccinated paid administrative leave if they miss work for COVID-19-related issues.

The Illinois House passed a bill Tuesday that would give teachers, professors and other educational employees paid leave if they miss work for COVID-19-related issues, but only if they’ve been fully vaccinated.

The House voted 70-28, with only Democrats voting in favor, to advance House Bill 1167, which would make the benefit retroactive to the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

The bill is similar to one that lawmakers passed with broad bipartisan support during last year’s fall veto session, but which Gov. JB Pritzker vetoed in January because it did not include a vaccine requirement.

“Well over 90 percent of teachers and staff would see a great, positive impact from this bill and I know they would all appreciate your support to pass this bill,” Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, D-Naperville, said during floor debate on the proposal.

But the vaccine requirement turned the new bill into a harshly partisan issue with Republicans calling it an unfair “vaccine mandate.”

“This does nothing to stop the spread of COVID in schools,” said Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, who noted that he contracted the virus despite being fully vaccinated and that he caught it from someone else who also was fully vaccinated. “So, the idea that vaccine is stopping the spread of COVID in schools is absolutely nonsense. The reality is this is a mandate.”

The bill would apply to vaccinated K-12 and higher education employees who take time off because they or a family member contracts COVID-19. It would also apply to employees who miss work because the school where they work is forced to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak, unless those days are later rescheduled.

Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, argued that Illinois is already suffering from a shortage of teachers and that passage of the bill would send a message that the state values the work they do.

“Legislation like this that shows the respect for the profession and understanding the nature of the work that they do is how we are going to help fight our teacher shortage crisis,” she said. “We have to show that we respect teachers. We want teachers to be supported in their classrooms.”

Republicans, however, argued that the bill unfairly discriminates in the way employee benefits are provided to educators on the basis of vaccination status because it provides a greater benefit to a vaccinated worker than an unvaccinated one even if neither contracts the virus.

“If the teacher is fully vaccinated and her kid is ill, she can take the admin days,” said Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield. “But if the teacher is unvaccinated in that same situation, the kid’s ill, he or she does not get the benefit of those admin days.”

The bill will head to the Senate for further consideration before it can head to Gov. JB Pritzker.

Peter Hancock joined the Capitol News Illinois team as a reporter in January 2019.