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ELECTIONS 2024 Mike Simmons discusses LGBTQ+ health disparities, child tax credit
by Kayleigh Padar
2024-02-27

This article shared 12289 times since Tue Feb 27, 2024
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State Senator Mike Simmons is running unopposed in the March 19 election. Simmons began representing the 7th District after the former state senator, Heather Steans, retired. He's lived in the area his entire life.

As Illinois's first openly gay Black state senator, Simmons helped pass laws defending same-sex marriages in the state, improving protections for state employees who identify as non-binary and ensuring that language in government communications is more inclusive, among other initiatives.

One of the first laws he passed was the Jett Hawkins Act, which banned discrimination against ethnic hairstyles in schools. Simmons has also long advocated for Illinois residents to receive a permanent child tax credit, an initiative was recently included in Gov. JB Pritzker's budget proposal.

Before becoming a state senator, Simmons was the deputy director of the My Brother's Keeper Alliance (an initiative launched by Barack Obama in 2014 to uplift boys and young men of color) and a senior official in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration.

Windy City Times: I know you're running unopposed, but if you weren't, why should someone vote for you?

Mike Simmons: Because I speak truth to power and I'm not afraid to fight the good fight. I'm a strong progressive and I'm aggressive when fighting on behalf of every single one of my constituents.

WCT: What are the chief concerns your constituents have? What do they tell you they worry about most?

MS: The number one issue is the loss of affordable housing and housing insecurity. Folks come into my district office who are about to be evicted or who are doubled up, who can't find an affordable apartment to rent or an affordable home to buy on the Far North Side of Chicago. It's really at a crisis point. It's a larger problem throughout Chicago, but it's something I see nearly everyday in my area.

WCT: What are some of the ways you're responding to that concern?

MS: The first thing that's really important is to just aggressively introduce community-led legislation and fight for its passage. We've done that with cooperative housing legislation that I was able to pass last spring, that dedicated a revenue source so we can provide funding to build new cooperative housing and preserve existing cooperative housing that, oftentimes, is very affordable in neighborhoods that are rapidly becoming unaffordable.

The second thing is that I've introduced a package of bills this session that includes, for instance, Senate Bill 2990, [which] would prohibit credit score and credit history from being criteria that can be used to determine if someone can rent an apartment. Not everybody has the ability to access credit. So, why should we use that to determine whether somebody can make monthly payments? That's the type of thing that can lead to someone to be unstably housed.

I've also been working with the Department of Human Rights to target fair housing violations and any discrimination around housing vouchers. If no one blows the whistle on landlords and apartment buildings that discriminate against people using housing vouchers, the pattern of segregation is continued.

WCT: Why is a permanent child tax credit something you've been advocating for?

MS: First, it's very encouraging that the governor included a new child tax credit in his budget proposal. That gets us started because we have something to work toward and budget for. My North Star, as the budget negotiations continue, is that this tax credit will have broad and deep impact. Putting a dent in child poverty is something I really care about. People think my district on the Far North Side of Chicago is full of affluent neighborhoods, but the reality is that, among the affluence, there are also communities that have a lot of need and households like the one I grew up in, where they're scrimping to get by.

Economic insecurity is something I've talked about from day one and it's one of the top things that I'm in the Senate to try to tackle. I want to make sure we have a just economy and I'm fighting for a state where parents can meet basic expenses and a child tax credit is a proven way to do that. When the federal American Rescue Plan was passed in 2021 with an expanded child tax credit on the national level, we saw child poverty fall by 46 percent. Those gains were quickly lost when the expansion expired in 2022 and that's why I introduced my bill. If we do it this year, we'd be the 15th state to create a child tax credit.

WCT: People tend to feel like LGBTQ+ rights are safe in Illinois for the most part, but what's most urgent about these issues right now?

MS:As you know, I'm the first openly LGBTQ+ of any race or ethnicity elected to the Illinois Senate and hopefully not the last. Sometimes we can get a little comfortable with the status quo, and that's unacceptable. Just looking at the healthcare sector, we see LGBTQ+ folks continue to be woefully underserved by our system, whether it's accessing basic primary care and long-term mental health support. That's a big problem, particularly for LGBTQ+ youth.

Another area I'd flag is human rights. I'm going to chair the Senate Human Rights Committee and I passed legislation last spring that outlaws book banning in public libraries in Illinois. I'm working on a bill this session, the Let America Read Act, that would outlaw book banning and attempts to curtail curriculum in classrooms. We've seen that start to happen in Illinois. The Yorkville Board of Education, in August, outlawed "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson, a black author. There's others who are targeting books about Black and LGBTQ+ communities, so the Let America Read Act is one of my top priorities this season. It has a direct impact on whether LGBTQ+ students will be able to read about their history.

WCT: Where do you see environmental concerns factoring into your priorities for the future?

MS:It's a top area of focus for me. This session, I'm carrying legislation that would accelerate the market for electric vehicles, so that by the middle of the next decade Illinois would be on par with California in terms of both the supply of electric vehicles, but also the uptake. We want to make the market more predictable for electric vehicles, for consumers who'll purchase them, but also for those with charging facilities for electric vehicles. This is an important way that we can meet our climate goals.

Another bill that I'm leading this session would legalize natural, organic composting for human remains. Other states have started to do this, and it gives people the option for a more environmentally sustainable way to lay your loved ones to rest.

Another one I'm really passionate about is legislation that would preserve our wetlands in Illinois. In light of the Supreme Court decision last summer that's not great for wetlands preservation, I'm helping my colleague, Senator Laura Ellman, to pass legislation on that.

WCT: What has most surprised you about being a state senator?

MS: That's the kind of question I'd like to sit down with a cup of tea and ponder. But since you asked, I'd say that I didn't appreciate how big of a platform I'd have as an elected official. To be the first Black person representing the seventh district and the first LGBTQ+ person, those are some pretty big firsts. It means I have an enormous platform to give voice to struggles and needs in the community and to amplify tens of thousands of people in my district, but also across the whole state.

LGBTQ+ people are vastly underrepresented and so are the Black communities on the Far North Side of Chicago, especially those who are low-income and struggling to meet basic needs. Those communities need a champion.

Before I took office three years ago, I didn't appreciate just how important that was. Even last bring, we were having a debate on gender neutral restrooms legislation, and one of my Republican colleagues threatened to beat someone up if they ever went into a gender-neutral restroom while his daughter was there. I literally stood up and addressed the presiding officer of the Senate to express that I was deeply offended on behalf of my communities, that another senator would make those remarks and would threaten somebody for something as simple as using the restroom. I probably spoke for like, 60 seconds, but people all across the country heard my comments and reached out to me to thank me for speaking up. I just could not have appreciated the power of the platform for the identities that I carry, and how much it impacts millions of people across the state.

See mikesimmons.org .


This article shared 12289 times since Tue Feb 27, 2024
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