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Springfield Bills Tackle Fantasy Sports, Cyberbullying, Solitary Confinement And More

By aaroncynic in News on Apr 6, 2016 4:22PM

Photo Credit: Rotating Frame
After spending several weeks on spring break, the Illinois legislature is back in session, though finally fixing the state’s budget impasse doesn’t seem to be on the agenda.

Lawmakers convened in Springfield Monday to consider a host of bills, including the criminalization of cyberbullying by parents, warning labels for medicinal marijuana, quicker court hearings for juveline offenders, the sharing of taxpayer data with third party vendors, limits to the use of solitary confinement on prisoners and more.

Many of these bills are currently in committee, and legislators are hoping to advance them before a deadline on Friday.

The judiciary committee will hear a bill Wednesday that would regulate online fantasy sports. Currently, Illinois law doesn’t expressly forbid or allow for betting on fantasy teams, but Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion in December saying it constituted illegal gambling, but that Springfield could expressly amend her decision through legislation. A bill Rep. Mike Zalewski is pushing would do just that.

Illinois is in “a legal limbo of what's OK and what's not OK, and that's not acceptable when you have, by some estimates, 2 million people playing fantasy football in Illinois,” Zalewski told the Daily Journal in March. His bill would define what’s considered daily fantasy sports, bar anyone under 18 from playing, prohibit athletes and insiders from playing, and establish “best practices” for the industry.

On Tuesday the Senate Higher Education Committee approved a bill that would allow universities to offer financial aid to undocumented students. According to the News-Gazette, SB2196 would make some 1,500 undocumented students eligible for financial aid. While undocumented students in Illinois are currently ineligible, federal law allows states to set their own levels, and nearly two dozen offer some form of aid to them. The bill has the support of Illinois’ 9 public universities, University of Illinois President Tim Killeen and former Illinois Republican Governor Jim Edgar.

The House Judiciary Committee will consider a bill that would severely limit the use of solitary confinement in Illinois prisons. An amendment to HB4494 would restrict the use of solitary confinement, which numerous human rights organizations have said is torture, to a limit of five days, only “when absolutely necessary.” The bill would also require more documentation for inmates put in solitary, as well as prohibit the use of the practice—with some exceptions—on people under 21 and over 55, who have serious medical conditions or are pregnant, have disabilities, or are LGBT.

Currently, Illinois prisons use a practice dubbed “progressive discipline,” where solitary sentences can be stacked. This has led to situations in which inmates are serving decades-long sentences in solitary confinement, often for arbitrary or infractions as small as rolling their eyes at a guard. Numerous studies have shown that just a short time in solitary does significant mental damage including memory loss, hallucinations, extreme mood swings, depression, panic attacks, self harming, suicidal behavior and more.

A House Committee rejected a bill put forth by Rep. Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon that would have put warning labels on medical marijuana. The labels would’ve warned users of potential side effects including “hallucinations, delusions and impaired thinking,” according to NPR. Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, who sponsored Illinois’ pilot program for medical marijuana said the legislation was “ill-timed.”

While there's plenty more pieces of legislation lawmakers will consider, a budget won't be among them. Gov. Bruce Rauner is still demanding state Democrats support his "Turnaround Agenda"—a pro-business package which would cripple labor before considering options to bring in more revenue.