Illinois bill to require changing tables for most public bathrooms advances

By Cole Lauterbach, Illinois News Network

Businesses in Illinois that are open to the public may soon be required to have diaper changing tables available to both mom and dad.

State lawmakers are close to sending a bill to the governor’s desk.

“House Bill 3711 requires all public restrooms in a public building to have a baby changing facility that is physically safe, sanitary and usable for the purpose with certain exemptions and requires signage at or near the entrance to the baby changing station indicating the location,” said state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, in the Senate Public Health Committee this week.

The legislation would only apply to new construction and remodels where more than half of the facility is updated. The bill would exempt smaller businesses and those that prohibit people younger than 18 years old.

Commercial changing tables vary in price, ranging from just over $100 to more than $1,000. Those prices don’t include the cost of installation.

The sponsor of the bill says it’s a step toward making changing stations more accessible to all families across Illinois.

“I have often heard from parents that safe and sanitary spaces to change young children are not always readily available in public restrooms,” said state Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago. “I am proud to support this policy change to make the lives of parents of young children in our state a little easier.” 

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, raised concerns about whether small shops, like Subway, that have open areas, but don’t seat many people would have to comply.

“It’s not the same thing as a dining-in restaurant, but it looks like they may fall under this category,” he said.

So far, the bill has passed unanimously and now only needs a Senate floor vote before it could be sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

New state law aims to protect pets from reckless dog owners

By Jordyn Pair, Illinois News Network

A new Illinois law holds reckless dog owners accountable for their dog’s actions.

The “Justice for Buddy” law allows a circuit court to order the forfeiture of a dog if the owner is found to be reckless.

“If the dog is declared dangerous, then it will be removed from the home and it will be evaluated,” said state Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, a sponsor of the bill. “If that evaluation says there is no opportunity for the dog to be rehabilitated, then the dog would be put down.”

The law says a dog owner is reckless if the dog has been deemed dangerous for killing another pet and is found running at large twice within a year of that designation.

The law came about after Hanover Park resident Donna Darry’s Yorkshire terrier, Buddy, was killed in 2017 by dogs belonging to a neighbor. 

“She said that ‘I know civilly I could sue these people,’ ” said Murphy, “‘but there should be … some accountability for the dog owners because the dogs do what owners allow and homeowners have a responsibility to be responsible for their pets.’”

The law both allows a circuit court to order the removal of the dog, as well as prohibits the owner from owning another dog for one to three years.

Murphy said she worked with pet groups to ensure the best law possible.

“I was really happy that we were able to come to agreement with all of the groups and develop language that is really going to hold owners accountable for the behavior of their animals,” Murphy said, “because that animals behavior is predicated on the environment they’re raised in.”

The “Justice for Buddy” law, Senate Bill 2386, went into effect on Jan. 1.

New Illinois law expands substitute teacher recruitment options

A new Illinois law will soon allow schools to use recruitment agencies to find substitute teachers.

The program opens the door for school districts to work with temp agencies to supplement the search for substitute teachers for elementary and secondary schools. It will be available Jan. 1.

“In some instances, when you can’t find a teacher to substitute in the absence of a homeroom teacher, sometimes you have other people in the building filling in,” said state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, one of the sponsors of the law. “The goal of this bill is to make sure we have qualified teachers in the classroom in the absence of the classroom teacher.”

Most school administrators will pull from the surrounding school districts to fill an open substitute teaching position, Ford said. But when that pool of teachers is tapped out, they are stuck. The new law will change that by allowing schools to pull from a larger group.

Rural schools especially are struggling to find teachers for “more technical areas” like sciences or foreign languages, said Ben Schwarm, the deputy executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards.

“I think given the problem we’ve had [with] teacher shortages recently and especially with substitute teachers, any new tool the school board has can be helpful,” Schwarm said. “This certainly isn’t something that every school board is going to use, but if it’s a tool you can use to help out and fill your teaching staff, that’s a good thing.”

A 2018 survey from the Illinois Board of Education showed nearly 3,000 unfilled positions – including administrators, educators, and other school personnel – across the state.

“There is no danger in having this option available,” For said. “It is not the option that the school district has to use, but it is an option of last resort.”