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IL: One State's Progressive Agenda

A few days ago, Illinois's governor proposed a new initiative to extend pre-kindegarten education to all three and four-year olds in the state, a proposal that would help middle class families struggling with early education expenses on their own. This is just an example of how Illinois has been quietly emerging as a national font of progressive ideas and legislation. With so little good coming out of DC these days, folks sometimes wonder what a progressive agenda should look like, but what's been enacted in Illinois in recent years outlines at least one good version of it. From labor rights to health care, the state has been chartering out new innovations. To give just a few other examples: For families, the state last year launched a new health care program for children that extended coverage for 250,000 previously uninsured children of working and middle class parents. And to protect patient care and ease the burden on overworked nurses, the state banned mandatory overtime for nurses in the state. And victims of sexual or domestic violence were guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover. For workers, there has been a slew of initiatives to raise wage standards and protect employment rights:
  • The state raised the minimum wage to $6.50 per hour a few years ago.
  • Corporate accountability was increased through a whisteblower law that protects employees from firing or other retaliation if they disclose information to law enforcement agencies about potentially illegal activity by the company..
  • Limited english speakers were protected in their rights to talk in Spanish or other languages to fellow workers under an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act to combat abusive "English-only" rules in the workplace.
  • Illinois passed legislation to crack down on abusive and unsafe working conditions in the day labor industry, improving the lives of 300,000 day laborers in the state.
  • "Sexual orientation" was added to the state civil rights law, protecting gays and lesbians from employment discrimination.
  • The state also passed legislation to bring all state workers under federal anti-discrimination laws, voluntarily waiving the state's "sovereign immunity" to counteract bad Supreme Court "states rights" decisions.
  • The state protected union rights by providing unemployment insurance benefits when companies unilaterally lock out workers during a contract dispute.
  • Governor Blagojevich signed an executive order helping day care workers unionize, leading to unionization and better working conditions for 49,000 child care workers in the state.
  • The state strengthened its bill protecting prevailing wages for public works.
These are just examples of how Illinois has been pioneering good legislation, not waiting for federal politicians to act but moving on multiple fronts to improve the lives of the states families and workers.