In a striking blow to LGBTQ advocacy in the heartland, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a highly-anticipated bill Monday that would have prevented small businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ workers.
House Bill 4572 had the backing of more than a dozen local advocacy organizations and would have made the state a leader in workplace non-discrimination protections.
“It’s frustrating to me to be honest with you that this has become a partisan issue,” state Rep. Will Guzzardi, who carried the bill, told INTO on the phone. “I thought that it was important to carry this legislation and show the people of this state that we’re fighting for them.”
HB 4572 would have amended the Illinois Human Rights Act to extend to businesses employing less than 15 people. Those protections include sexual orientation and gender identity but also bar discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, physical or mental disability, military status, age, national original and marital status, among other things.
Guzzardi says he and others are disappointed but not surprised by the Republican governor’s veto. Guzzardi accuses Rauner of backing business interests over civil rights.
Critics of the bill said it would heedlessly burden small businesses by ensnaring them in costly regulations and litigation.
National Federation of Independent Business Illinois State Director Mark Grant told the illinois News Network that the governor should veto the bill to prevent such losses.
“[Small businesses] are increasing wages and benefits wherever they can possibly afford to,” Grant said. “They’re trying to keep their workplaces safe and healthy. They want happy employees – especially the smallest ones. They see their employees as family.”
Rauner, whose predecessor Pat Quinn signed marriage equality into law in Illinois in 2013, has faced strong criticism from both sides of the aisle, but he declined to comment publicly on the bill.
“We were hoping he would have a change of heart,” Guzzardi said. “I think that we were hoping that we could put pressure on him to do the right thing here and that was unsuccessful unfortunately.”
Illinois is among just 20 states and Washington D.C. with workplace non-discrimination protections on the books.
HB 4572 cleared both the Senate and House in May.
Last week, 17 local advocacy organizations urged Rauner to sign the bill into law.
“While we have made great progress as a state in matters of equality, it’s time for Illinois to ensure all of our workers have access to the tools of justice when they encounter discrimination in the workplace,” they wrote.
Equality Illinois, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights group, blasted Rauner for failing to sign the measure at a time when anti-LGBTQ activists are working feverishly to roll back protections.
“He could have sent a powerful and unmistakable message that Illinois is best and strongest when state law protects all workers from discrimination,” said Michael Ziri, director of public policy at Equality Illinois, in a statement. “Instead, Gov. Rauner effectively said it is okay to discriminate in the workforce at thousands of Illinois businesses on the basis of someone’s race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Shame on him.”
Guzzardi said this isn’t the last Illinois will see of the measure. He and Senator Cristina Castro will aim to override the veto or re-introduce the bill next year. Hopefully under a new governor, he said.