Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) issued the following statement regarding the passage of automatic voter registration legislation in the Illinois Senate today:

“Today I was pleased to vote again for automatic voter registration, a system that makes sense for generations of voters who are accustomed to certain aspects of life happening automatically and with ease – from cell phone updates to grocery stores knowing our buying habits. There’s simply no reason to require people to jump through hoops to register to vote every time they move, when it just as easily can be done automatically when they update their driver’s licenses. That’s good government.”

Senate Bill 1933, which passed in the Senate in a vote of 48-0, would establish an automatic voter registration system in Illinois by July 1, 2018. Biss is a chief co-sponsor of the measure.

Under the system, qualified voters would be automatically registered to vote when they visit the Illinois secretary of state and other state agencies for services. Voters would be able to opt out of the system if they wish. A series of checks would ensure no one is registered to vote that should not be.

Illinois currently has an opt-in voter registration system in which adults who are 18 or older must find, fill out and submit a voter registration form to an appropriate government agency. Voters frequently forget to update their voter registrations when they move, change marital status or go to college, causing confusion at the polls and inaccuracies on the state’s voter rolls.

Automatically registering voters when they do business with the state enables government to do away with redundant paperwork, streamline bureaucracy and be more cost effective for taxpayers.

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Biss 05042017Defendants would not be able to use a victim’s sexual orientation as an excuse for seeking a reduced murder charge under legislation that passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate Friday.

Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) sponsored Senate Bill 1761, which is commonly known as the “gay panic defense” bill. Under the legislation, panicking about the discovery, knowledge or disclosure of a victim’s sexual orientation cannot qualify as a mitigating factor for murder.

“Although these types of criminal defenses are rare, they still happen from time to time around the country,” Biss said. “As we continue to take steps to ensure equal rights for those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community, the government must send an unmistakable signal that sexual orientation should never be grounds for committing an act of violence.”

Under current state law, first-degree murder may be mitigated to second-degree murder if the defendant acted under sudden or intense passion resulting from serious provocation by a victim. “Serious provocation” is defined as conduct sufficient to excite an intense passion in a reasonable person.

The “gay panic” defense first was used in Illinois in 1972. More recently, the defense made headlines in August 2009 when a Cook County jury acquitted a man charged with first-degree murder after he argued “gay panic” in killing his neighbor. The defendant stabbed the victim 61 times for allegedly making an unwanted sexual advance toward the defendant, who said he felt he had to defend himself.

In 2013, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution urging governments to curtail the availability and effectiveness of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses. In 2014, California became the first state to legislatively ban the use of the “gay panic” defense.

Senate Bill 1761 passed 41-0 Friday. Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ people, commended Biss and the Illinois Senate for its support of the legislation.

“At a time when one-fifth of hate crimes reported to the FBI are committed against LGBTQ people, Senator Biss and the Illinois Senate sent a powerful bipartisan message today that anti-LGBTQ stigma must not carry over to the court room. This bill ensures that LGBTQ people are not blamed for the violence perpetrated against them simply because of who they are,” Johnson said.

“After we first discussed this issue with Senator Biss, he immediately picked up the baton and ran with the bill, working with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build today's bipartisan majority. The lives of LGBTQ Illinoisans will be better because of this legislation."

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Biss05042017Illinoisans’ access to retirement savings and quality health insurance were put in jeopardy this week, all because Congress cares more about Wall Street profits than it does about ordinary people who struggle every day to get by.

“Once again we see decisions coming out of Washington that, when presented with opportunities to side either with big-money interests and Wall Street or with millions of people across the country, Republican representatives are choosing the former,” said Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston).

Biss was reacting to two pieces of news out of Washington, D.C., this week:

  • On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to impede Illinois and other states from launching state-based retirement savings programs for people who work for small businesses that do not offer retirement plans. President Trump reportedly plans to sign it into law. Illinois blazed a trail for other states in 2015 when it established the Secure Choice program, set to go into effect this year. Biss authored the Secure Choice legislation, which enables workers to take advantage of automatic 3 percent payroll deductions to save for retirement. Experts say the country is on the cusp of a retirement crisis because many workers, especially low-wage workers, do not have adequate nest eggs for retirement and therefore will be reliant on taxpayer-supported social safety nets when they leave the work force. States are looking for ways to close savings gap.
  • And Congress now is eyeing a repeal of President Obama’s signature health care reform, the Affordable Care Act, which has enabled more than 1 million previously uninsured Illinoisans to obtain health coverage since 2013. The Congressional replacement would, among other things, cut the Medicaid program for low-income people and allow states to obtain waivers that free insurers from some Affordable Care Act requirements, such as coverage for “essential health benefits,” including maternity care, mental health services and emergency care.

It took years of fighting against special interests in the financial and insurance industries that want fees high to get Secure Choice passed in Illinois in 2014, Biss said. And now a bipartisan board is administering the rollout of the program in Illinois, something that will continue despite the climate in Washington, he added.

“This was a naked effort to side with Wall Street against ordinary people who need help right now,” he said. “And guess what’s happening today? The House of Representatives is furiously working to pass a health care bill that will take health care coverage away from a million people in Illinois and leave people without reasonable options – while, by the way, also resulting in a massive tax cut for the richest people in the country.

“It’s an unconscionable assault on workers, families and seniors in Illinois and across the country.”

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Biss04272017Voters have the right to know as much as possible about the financial conflicts of interest of men and women who want to be president of the United States, and Illinois could become a national leader in requiring candidates to disclose such information.

Senate Bill 982, sponsored by State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), passed 32-19 in the Illinois Senate on Thursday and will go to the Illinois House for consideration. Under the legislation, presidential candidates would have to release five years’ worth of income tax returns before they could appear on the ballot in Illinois.

“This is about transparency and good government,” Biss said. “It’s something we need, and, frankly, it’s something I wish we’d had a year and a half ago.”

Federal law requires presidential candidates to complete financial disclosure forms that include information about income, property, liabilities, investments and certain financial interests of family members, but candidates are not required to release tax returns. Until 2016, major-party candidates for president voluntarily had released their returns since the Ford administration in an effort to appear transparent with voters.

Under Biss’ the legislation, candidates would not appear on the ballot in Illinois if they don’t comply at least five days before certification of the ballot for the general election. It also applies to candidates for vice president.

Biss said voters should be able to look at information about a presidential candidate’s sources of income and investments so they can understand where potential conflicts of interests may lie – a critical consideration for the most powerful elected office in the nation.

“Voters should be able to make up their own minds a candidate based upon their own priorities and their own interests,” Biss said. “I think we can all agree that it is in the public’s best interest to make sure they have all the information they need to make the best possible decision at the polls.”

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