Illinois Legislature Shields Corporations and State Agencies from Discrimination Lawsuits with COVID Carveout to Health Care Conscience Act

By Beth Clay

October 29, 2021 (Falls Church, VA) Despite an overwhelming majority of the public expressing opposition, both the House and Senate of the Illinois General Assembly voted along party lines to advance legislation that’s pure intent is to shield corporations and state agencies from being sued for firing employees who seek an accommodation via a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine. The one concession made during the process was to move the timeline for implementation from immediate upon the governor’s signature to June 1, 2022. Media reports suggest that even with this delayed implementation, the current lawsuits may be affected.

ICA was engaged through the entire process. Our Representative Assembly member from Illinois, Dr. Brandt Hulsebus notified the home office as soon as the amendment was announced. In the span of 24 hours, we drafted and submitted testimony and reached out to members of the Illinois House. We submitted written testimony, made it available publicly, engaged with our colleagues across the profession, and observed the Executive Committee hearing , engaging with legislators and the public in real time to provide facts that mattered to the discussion. You can read the testimony by clicking here. With more than 49,700 people filling out witness slips in the House Executive Committee in opposition and only 700 in support, the party line vote moved the bill to the House floor. We then stayed on watch and worked the telephone to stop its forward motion in the House.

It was obvious that the majority party were in lock step wtih the Governor’s request to get this exception to the law. ICA did not give up, even knowing it was a steep hill to climb. When the House voted Wednesday night to pass SB1169 with the amendment regarding the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, we stayed engaged.

While legislators and legal representatives of the state government attempted to portray this amendment as a ‘clarification’ to the Health Care Conscience Act, (read here), it is not, it is a change to the law that provides an exception (a carveout) for all actionable violations to the law when they related to COVID.

One of our sources suggested that the Senate might not even hear the bill as it was not included in the docket published that morning and it was the last day of session. We did not stand down, we stayed engaged and starting calling our colleagues in the Senate. We got the call as soon as it was announced the bill would be added to the docket. Initially because of the super majority of the majority party, the word was it was going straight to the Senate floor. However, the outrage of now following procedure and the need to have the public weigh in led to the bill going through a hearing in the Senate Executive Committee. ICA Submitted written testimony (read here) to this hearing as well. Senators on the Committee heard testimony for instance from a teachers’ assistant who worked throughout the pandemic with children with special needs had her request for accommodation with a religious exemption rejected by her school district and was fired a week ago. In a span of just a handful of hours over 20,000 people filled out witness slips in opposition and less than 200 supported. Again, a party line vote sent the bill with the amendment to the Senate Floor. Dr. Hulsebus, and both the ICA Executive Director, and Dr. Selina Sigafoose Jackson, our President started calling Senators. Every Senator’s office got a telephone call. We stayed in touch with our members and other contacts in the state and many of them engaged as well.

Last night about 8:00 pm, the Senate began voting on all of the bills they wanted to pass before the session ended. It was very late in the evening when SB1169 was passed including the amendment we opposed. One news outlet provided the following report: “

The Illinois House voted 64-52 on Wednesday night to alter the Health Care Right of Conscience Act to shield employers from civil suits if they enforce Coronavirus vaccine or testing mandates.

The Senate could send the measure to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk on Thursday. Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D-Illinois), who represents school districts and state agencies against lawsuits in court, was seen speaking with representatives moments before the debate began.

Several Republicans opposed the changes, arguing individuals should have rights to make health care decisions for themselves without being coerced by their employers.

The bill won’t take effect until June 1, 2022, but could still influence pending court cases.”

What now? Obviously, it is frustrating that this carve out went forward. We will stay engaged, working with our members in every state, every province, every country to protect and promote chiropractic; and to stand up for the rights of all for health freedom. There is a saying that there are things you never want to watch being made – sausage and legislation….this week in Illinois is a prime example of political agenda trumping the will of the citizenry. We will not give up doing the right thing for the right reasons.

We take cues from one of the greatest leaders to come from Illinois:

The fight must go on. The cause of civil liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one, or even one hundred defeats

-President Abraham Lincoln in a letter to Henry Asbury in 1858

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