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Illinois House OKs bill to give pregnant employees new rights

Updated: May 12, 2014 6:40AM

SPRINGFIELD — Weighing the needs of expecting mothers against small businesses’ bottom line, the House on Thursday approved legislation favored by Gov. Pat Quinn that would give pregnant employees new civil rights in the workplace.

The measure, which passed 65-36 and now moves to the Senate, would require that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” for all working pregnant women, including part-time and full-time employees.

“This is about life. This is about liberty. And this is about the pursuit of happiness,” said Rep. Mary Flowers, the chief sponsor of House Bill 8. “Women who are pregnant deserve to be respected.”

Quinn, who made an entrance on the House floor during the bill’s debate, hugged Flowers after her bill passed and promptly left the chamber without taking questions.

“No woman should have to decide between keeping her job or keeping her baby,” Quinn said later in a prepared statement. “I urge the Senate to quickly pass this important bill.”

Flowers’ bill would require employers to permit frequent bathroom breaks; water breaks; seating; assistance with manual labor; less physically demanding duties; adjustment of the work schedule; time off to recover from childbirth; leave; and break space for breast-feeding.

“I don’t think this an undue burden on employers,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, who voted for the bill. “It isn’t asking much, saying give me a chair to sit down, let’s make sure I’m not dehydrated, let’s make sure I have an opportunity to bring this baby to term.”

But Republican opponents argued that the legislation, patterned after existing law in California and in New York City, would open small businesses to new legal liabilities that would drive up costs and lower profits.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, who voted against the legislation, said “no one’s against pregnant women.” But he said the bill goes too far.

“It’s problematic because it expands rights beyond what’s already provided in federal law,” he said. “It has many undefined terms that could be abused.”

Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, another “no” vote, recalled her time as a pregnant woman in the U.S. Army, the military made accommodations for her, but she still had doubts about Flowers’ bill.

“I seriously worry about the lawsuits that may ensue from a bill like this when there’s been a disagreement,” Ives said.

But Flowers said litigation didn’t erupt in California after it enacted a similar law.

“Women are not interested in suing,” she said. “They just want to be protected and respected like other employees.”


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