Image courtesy Pexel user Brett Sayles
On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, in the first official act of the 102nd Illinois General Assembly, Ill. State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch was formally elected as the first Black Speaker of the House. The independent Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) warmly congratulates Speaker Welch. This vote came on the heels of a five-day lame duck session focused on a sweeping agenda crafted by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
Consistent with findings from our landmark 2017 Cost of Segregation study and grounded in our commitment to equity in all policies, MPC supported the Black Caucus omnibus package. Ultimately, it secured numerous wins for racial, economic, and social equity in Illinois. The package included four pillars—police and criminal justice reform, educational reform, health care and human services reform, and the expansion of economic opportunity. While some provisions in the associated bills were tabled for spring session—such as legislation that would require Illinois to develop a plan, funding, and timeline for replacement of all of its 686,000-plus water service lines made of lead—much positive change was achieved in just a few short days. For example, sweeping reforms were made to the state’s criminal justice system including outlawing the use of cash bail. In addition, measures were passed that will expand economic opportunity for people, including safeguards on payday lending and streamlining the application processes for people with arrest and conviction records seeking employment and public housing.
As importantly, the Black Caucus agenda and the historic election of Rep. Welch as Speaker signal changing tides: Illinois must unflinchingly confront the ongoing structural racism and white supremacy that hold our state, region, and nation back. Many state lawmakers stood in support of the Black Caucus package by advancing policies that will improve equity for residents of color, and ultimately build a better, bolder, more equitable future for all Illinois residents.
That’s news worth celebrating—even as we now turn our attention to the significant work that remains. MPC is committed to working with colleagues from both Chambers and all parties to advance policies that improve justice and equity in metropolitan Chicago and Illinois. We will provide regular updates via our blog, social media, and newsletter as this legislative session progresses—and we hope we can count on you to stand with us in supporting state policies that contribute to a more just and equitable recovery.