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COVID-19 leave for vaccinated teachers clears General Assembly

Senate President Don Harmon urges passage of a bill providing school employees who are fully vaccinated paid administrative leave if they have to miss work due to COVID-19-related issues.

A bill that allows teachers and other school and university employees or contractors who are fully vaccinated to take paid administrative leave if they have to miss work due to coronavirus-related issues cleared the Illinois Senate Thursday and will soon be sent to Gov. JB Pritzker.

House Bill 1167, by Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, D-Naperville, and Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, would guarantee full pay for any day that a fully-vaccinated school employee misses if they are required to stay home because they have a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.

It also applies if the employee is required to stay home because they have been in close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, to care for a child with COVID-19, or if the building in which they work is forced to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

It also applies to public university and community college personnel.

The bill, which would be retroactive to the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, defines “fully vaccinated” as having received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two weeks before being forced to miss work.

The bill is similar to one lawmakers passed during the fall veto session last year, HB2778, except that the earlier bill did not include a vaccination requirement. Pritzker vetoed that bill while at the same time announcing he had negotiated a compromise package with the state’s two major teachers unions, school districts, community colleges and universities that included a vaccine requirement.

“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 on Jan. 24. “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.”

But while the earlier bill passed the General Assembly nearly unanimously – 113-0 in the House; 53-1 in the Senate – the inclusion of a vaccine requirement caused lawmakers to split along party lines.

Republicans argued that the new bill amounts to a kind of vaccine mandate for school employees because it treats people who are otherwise equally situated, differently, based on their vaccination status.

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, pointed to a hypothetical example of two teachers, one vaccinated and one not, who have to stay home to take care of a sick child. He said one of those would receive paid leave to do so but the other would not.

“I just don’t think it’s the place of the General Assembly to be getting involved in this in which we’re dividing up people under the same collective bargaining agreement,” he said.

Harmon, however, said the bill does not mandate that any school employee be vaccinated, and he compared the extra benefit vaccinated employees would receive to the extra pay some teachers receive if they pursue an advanced degree.

He also said he believed people who object to being vaccinated for religious or medical reasons would be exempted under federal law.

“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,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate 32-18. It passed the House on March 1, 70-28.

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