SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers went on a two-week spring break last week with more than 700 bills already passed in at least one chamber of the General Assembly.
They will return to Springfield on April 18 for a final one-month stretch in which the measures can be amended, defeated or sent to the governor.
Among the bills to successfully move to the other chamber are a measure to lift the state’s 1987 moratorium on nuclear power plant construction, a bill that would create statewide building codes and another requiring retail establishments to accept cash payments within certain hours.
Gov. JB Pritzker noted last week that he’s generally supportive of the concept of lifting the nuclear construction ban, although he didn’t commit to signing the proposal contained in Senate Bill 76, which passed on a 39-13 bipartisan roll call.
Pritzker said he is supportive of allowing for the construction of small modular nuclear reactors, which are small-scale generators that could be used to power individual factories or for other uses.
He said he didn’t think doing so would be contradictory to the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act that he signed in 2021. Some environmentalists have opposed lifting the nuclear ban due to the dangers associated with nuclear waste.
“These are smaller, less prone to an accident, more likely for us to be able to maintain them for a long period of time, that’s something that’s worthy of consideration,” Pritzker said. “Now the devil’s in the details and we want to make sure that we’re not just opening this up to nuclear everywhere or any type of nuclear.”
SB 76, as written, would allow any type of nuclear construction, including the large-scale projects.
“I don’t know where that bill will go this session, but I’m not opposed to it as if I’m, you know, just dead set against any nuclear,” he said. “I just want, if we’re going to consider it, it’s got to be safe.”
Statewide building codes
Beginning in 2025, Illinois could have statewide building codes for new or substantially renovated commercial and residential construction under a bill that passed the Senate before break.
Sponsored by Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, Senate Bill 2368 allows the state’s Capital Development Board to prohibit occupation of such a facility until it is inspected. The building would have to be compliant with several state or federal building codes for electricity, energy efficiency, accessibility, and plumbing, as well as the Fire Investigation Act.
“Basically, what this does is establishes a statewide building code as a minimum standard,” Koehler said during floor debate. “Now most communities are going to have well above the minimum standard. But the reason that this is important is because Illinois is one of only six states in the union that does not have a statewide building code.”
Koehler said when Illinois has a natural disaster and applies for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state has to check a box noting it doesn’t currently have such a code.
“And so it costs us money,” he said.
The bill would require municipalities with existing building codes to adopt at least the newly created statewide minimum standard and submit their plans to the state. A homeowner renovating a residential property in a jurisdiction without a building code would have to adopt the code of any jurisdiction within 100 miles of the construction in the contract with their builder.
Otherwise, it would have to comply with the new statewide standards, which apply to new construction and any renovations that increase the property’s value by 50 percent or more.
Republicans questioned whether a statewide code would be enforceable in smaller towns.
“It’s up to a municipality as to how they want to enforce it,” Koehler said. “The Capital Development Board is responsible for having organizations say that they’re, you know, what codes they have and all that. In terms of who enforces that? I don’t know.”
Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, used a small town in his district as an example to speak against the bill.
“In Metcalf, Illinois, they don’t have anybody to mow the lawn, okay, let alone inspect a house,” Rose said. “But more importantly, you’re telling an awful lot of people who couldn’t afford to repair and maintain their home in the first place that we just doubled or tripled the bill. And there may or may not be some guy from the (Capital Development Board) knocking on their door.”
The measure passed 34-18 with one present vote and it awaits action in the House.
Lawmakers advanced a bill that would mandate retail establishments to accept cash for purchases under $750. Senate Bill 1979 passed 40-16 in the Senate with mainly Democratic support.
Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, is the bill’s lead sponsor. He said SB 1979 is aimed at protecting “underbanked and unbanked” people who only carry cash.
“This bill is making sure that those folks…have an ability to still purchase needed things,” Aquino said. “Getting fuel, getting their medicine at the pharmacy, getting food on the table that they’re able to purchase from groceries and restaurants.”
The bill also says retail establishments can’t charge a higher price to customers paying with cash. SB 1979 also exempts restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores from the requirement between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. in an effort to protect against robbery.
“It goes directly into trying to keep people safe,” Aquino said of the time exemption. “Businesses are accepting cash, we’re just trying to get ahead of the trend that looks like more locations are going for a non-cash payment.”
Debate on the measure centered around the question of accessibility versus safety, with Republican opponents arguing that mandating businesses to accept cash was putting them at risk.
“What I’m concerned about is the small businessman who operates in an area that he’s worried about theft, or he’s worried about robbery, and he chooses how he runs his business to operate in a certain area,” said Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy.
Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, added that not all robberies occur at night.
“These businesses, some have been ransacked, and the times in which they were ransacked in the last several years was not between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” McClure said. “They were in broad daylight, and we are seeing that more and more.”
The bill also notes that retailers are not required to accept any denomination of currency larger than a $20 bill.
A violation could result in a $50 fine for the retail establishment, $100 for a second offense in a 12-month period or $500 for a third offense during that period. No establishment could be fined more than $5,000 in one year.