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Bill would require schools to offer vegan, vegetarian options upon request

School cafeterias may soon have to offer plant-based meal options for students who ask for them under a bill that will soon head to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk.

SPRINGFIELD – Public schools in Illinois may soon be serving a lot more vegan and vegetarian meals, thanks to a bill that cleared the General Assembly Tuesday.

House Bill 4089 requires school districts to provide a plant-based lunch option that complies with federal nutritional requirements to any student who submits a prior request to the district asking for such an option.

Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said the proposal was meant to accommodate students with certain religious, cultural or health concerns.

But the bill drew some opposition from Republicans who called it an unfunded mandate on schools and argued that it could lead to even more dietary mandates.

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said schools already have the authority to offer plant-based food options because there is nothing in state law prohibiting it.

“And so if we’re going to embrace the notion of local control in allowing our local units of government to make their own decisions, here lies an example of where we can put that to work,” he said.

Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, pointed out that earlier in the day, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 4147 that would require schools to offer halal food options. That’s food deemed permissible under Islamic law.

“It makes you ponder, could you then have a Jewish kosher school required option, or one that is specific to any religious following,” she said. “So it seemed to us, the Republicans in the Education Committee, that perhaps a task force to study this and how much it costs for a school district to do this, how much of a need there is, should be explored.”

But Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, argued that plant-based diets are generally healthier for people and that passage of the bill could help promote healthier lifestyles.

“It doesn’t matter what ethnic group, what your religious background is. The fact of the matter is, it’s simply healthy eating,” she said.

Koehler said the impact of the bill might be minimal because there may be some districts in which no students ask for plant-based option. He also said there is little difference in the cost of plant-based foods compared to meat-based meals.

The bill previously passed the House on March 4, 96-7. It passed the Senate Tuesday, 42-10, and next will be sent to Gov. JB Pritzker for his consideration.

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Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. It is funded by donations from the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government. Capitol News Illinois provides year-round, daily coverage of the Legislature, including committee hearings; state agencies and issues; state office holders; and the Illinois Supreme Court and legal matters.

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