COVID-19 leave for vaccinated teachers clears General Assembly

SPRINGFIELD — A bill that would allow teachers and other school and university employees or contractors who are fully vaccinated to take paid administrative leave if they have to miss work due to coronavirus-related issues is headed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

House Bill 1167, sponsored by Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, a Naperville Democrat, and Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, would guarantee full pay for any day that fully vaccinated school employees miss if they are required to stay home because of confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19.

It also would apply employees were required to stay home because they had been in close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, to care for a child with COVID-19, or if the building in which they work were forced to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The measure would cover public university and community college personnel as well.

The bill, which would be retroactive to the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, defines “fully vaccinated” as having received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two weeks before being forced to miss work.

The bill is similar to one lawmakers passed during the fall veto session last year, HB2778, except that the earlier bill did not include a vaccination requirement. Pritzker vetoed that bill while at the same time announcing he had negotiated a compromise package with the state’s two major teachers unions, school districts, community colleges and universities that included a vaccine requirement.

“Vaccines are a vital tool in preventing the deadly effects of COVID-19, and those who take the steps to be fully vaccinated against this virus are doing their part to keep everyone safe,” Pritzker said in his veto message on Jan. 24. “They deserve to be able to take the time they need to respond to the ongoing devastating impacts the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on them and their families.”

But while the earlier bill passed the General Assembly nearly unanimously — 113-0 in the House, 53-1 in the Senate — the inclusion of a vaccine requirement caused lawmakers to split along party lines.

The bill passed the Senate 32-18 on Thursday. It passed the House 70-28 on March 1

Republicans argued that the new bill is tantamount to vaccine mandate for school employees.

Senate GOP Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods pointed to a hypothetical example of two teachers, one vaccinated and one not, who have to stay home to take care of sick children. One would receive paid leave, but the other would not.

“I just don’t think it’s the place of the General Assembly to be getting involved in this in which we’re dividing up people under the same collective bargaining agreement,” he said.

Harmon, however, said the bill does not mandate that any school employee be vaccinated, and he compared the extra benefit for vaccinated employees to the extra pay some teachers receive for an advanced degree.

He also said he believed people who object to being vaccinated for religious or medical reasons would be exempted under federal law.

“If you are taking an affirmative step to be better prepared to be in the classroom or in the school, you have an enhanced benefit,” he said.

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March 31, 2022 at 07:20PM

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