During a time when rank partisanship almost always rules the day, it’s good to see that overcoming the “party-first” mentality is still possible for some causes in the Illinois General Assembly.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill Tuesday that lowers the threshold for part-time school and college employees to receive paid family and medical leave. Most of those workers will now be eligible for the benefit after one year of employment.

This will be a long-overdue and well-deserved benefit for Vermilion County residents who work in part-time positions with local schools as well as at Danville Area Community College.

As the governor said at a signing ceremony, the state for far too long has asked school staff to provide support at schools without giving them the grace and flexibility to care for themselves and their families. “It’s an omission that undermines the value of their work and the reality of their lives away from school grounds,” he said.

Capitol News Illinois reported this week that under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, workers are entitled to as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a newborn child, to care for a close relative who has a serious health condition, or to deal with their own serious illness. That expands to 26 weeks to care for a child, spouse or parent who is a service member with a serious illness or injury.

But to be eligible, the employee must have been employed for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period, a threshold that often can’t be met by part-time school employees known as education support professionals, or ESPs. Those include paraprofessionals, secretaries, librarians, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others, many of whom work only limited hours during the day, and often only when school is in session.

The new law lowers that threshold for workers to 1,000 hours of work during the previous 12 months. It applies to all employees of school districts, community colleges and public universities in Illinois. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2022.

“Unfortunately, some of our ESPs, many who are 10-month employees, were a bit short of the number of hours federally required to qualify for FMLA benefits,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association. “In many school districts across the state, this meant that when these amazing education employees had to care for themselves or a family member’s health, they had a very difficult decision to make.

“They would be forced to deny care of a loved one, or resign from their job. Or if it was the employee who was sick, they may not be guaranteed their position once they got better, and lose their health insurance, all while the only reason they needed to take a leave was due to a health condition.”

Griffin said there are more than 25,000 ESPs within the Illinois Education Association.

The bill shows a willingness of lawmakers to correct flaws in state policy without engaging in political battles. to their credit, both chambers of the General Assembly passed this law by heavy majorities. The people of Illinois can, at least in this case, appreciate such a legislative effort.

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