Hundreds of bills pass, including changes to state’s biometric data privacy law

Other measures regulate garbage truck littering, allow yoga in schools

Lawmakers passed more than 200 bills ahead of their scheduled May 24 adjournment.

Many of the measures soon will head to Gov. JB Pritzker, including a bill that changes how damages accrue under Illinois’ first-in-the-nation biometric data privacy law.

The Illinois House on Thursday approved Senate Bill 2979 with several Republicans joining supermajority Democrats in its passage. The Senate last month also OK’d the measure on a bipartisan vote.

The measure is a response to an Illinois Supreme Court ruling last year that “respectfully suggest(ed)” lawmakers clarify the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act. That ruling found fast food chain White Castle violated BIPA each time its employees used their fingerprints in the course of performing their jobs, as the company never obtained permission under the law.

In that case, White Castle estimated it would be on the hook for up to $17 billion in penalties, as the law provides for $1,000 in damages for each “negligent” violation or $5,000 for each “reckless” or “intentional” violation.

However, White Castle last month settled the case for $9.4 million.

“That’s million with an ‘M,’” House sponsor Rep. Ann Williams, a Chicago Democrat, said during House floor debate on SB 2979 Thursday, adding that the White Castle case represented a “sky is falling” scenario that didn’t end up coming true.

The legislation would change BIPA’s violation accrual so that each initial collection of a fingerprint or other biometric data would amount to one violation, rather than a violation occurring for each individual scan. Employees might scan their fingerprints dozens of times per shift if they’re unlocking doors or cabinets with those scans.

Illinois is the only state that grants residents the right to sue over businesses’ improper collection and mishandling of biometric data — whether they are an employee or a customer. A business is in violation of BIPA if it doesn’t have a storage policy in place, doesn’t properly protect the data, or if it does not get consent from customers or employees for the data being collected.

Under SB 2979, businesses could get that consent via an electronic signature, which the bill defines as an “electronic sound, symbol, or process.”

Business groups have been clamoring for changes to BIPA in recent years as upwards of 2,000 lawsuits have been filed under the law since roughly 2018, resulting in a few high-profile settlements — including a $650 million class-action payout from Facebook in 2020. The social media giant paid more than 1 million Illinoisans roughly $400 each.

Some business groups still are opposed to SB 2979 because it wouldn’t be applied retroactively and doesn’t specifically shield data centers from liability for storing biometric information on behalf of companies who may have violated BIPA.

Garbage truck littering

Garbage trucks that lose trash because they are not properly covered could soon be fined after a bill unanimously advanced out of both chambers.

House Bill 4848 would create a specific violation for law enforcement to cite when garbage or other debris falls from a truck and litters highways. Each infraction would result in a $150 ticket.

Sen. Donald DeWitte, a St. Charles Republican, said the legislation is an attempt to eliminate unsightly waste.

“You don’t have to drive very far to see the fences along the farm fields, the trees, all decorated with various pieces of plastic bags and garbage that might have flown off trucks,” DeWitte said.

Mindful classrooms

A measure allowing educators to provide students with time for mindful stretching and movement during the school day cleared both chambers.

Nothing prevents schools from implementing these practices now, but Senate Bill 2872 codifies that educators may provide students with at least 20 minutes of relaxation activities, like yoga and meditation, each week. It also would allow them to partner with an outside institution to provide the activities.

During House debate, supporters of the bill said practicing soothing techniques, like breathing exercises and stretching, is essential for helping students manage their mental health — especially as students deal with leftover trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic’s interruption of their education.

But those opposed expressed concern with potential programming interfering with classroom learning time and religious freedoms.

Rep. Blaine Wilhour, a Beecher City Republican, specifically cited a recent class-action lawsuit filed by former Chicago Public Schools students against the Chicago Board of Education. Students allege the board forced them to participate in a meditation program that students argued was actually a Hindu ritual that violated their religious beliefs.

The House sponsor, Rep. Laura Faver Dias, a Grayslake Democrat, reiterated during debate that the bill is not a mandate and parents could air any concerns about specific programs with local school boards.

The bill cleared the Senate 36-19 in April and the House 71-40 this week along party lines.

Food grants

A pilot program that has given nearly $2 million to local farms would be expanded into a permanent fund under a measure that received unanimous approval in the House.

Senate Bill 3077, which also got a unanimous vote in the Senate last month, would create a special fund for the Department of Agriculture to administer the Local Food Infrastructure Grant Program. In its pilot phase, the state awarded $1.8 million to 19 local farms for a variety of projects, like building a meat processing center and a new kitchen.

Under the measure, the IDOA would be able to work with a partner nonprofit and grant money from the newly created Local Food Infrastructure Grant Fund to select small farms for things like food processing and cold storage. Grant amounts could range from $1,000 to $75,000 if it’s for an individual project and up to $250,000 if it’s a collaborative project.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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