State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) today announced her resignation after 12 years of service, declaring "it's time for fresh faces and new energy" in Springfield.
"It's been the privilege of a lifetime to represent the most diverse Senate district in the State of Illinois," Steans said. "I've benefited tremendously from the many perspectives of the people a I've represented. We've made great progress together, and now it's time to pass the baton."
During her tenure, Steans has been a leader on issues affecting women and the LGBTQ community, introducing and passing the historic bill that legalized gay marriage in Illinois, the first state to address this vital civil rights issue through the legislative process. She sponsored and passed the landmark House Bill 40, which will ensure that abortion remains legal in Illinois if the Roe v. Wade decision is ever overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. And Steans was the Senate sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was finally ratified by the Illinois legislature in 2018.
"For every significant piece of legislation expanding women's or LGBTQ rights in the past 12 years, Heather has been a leading voice," said Terry Cosgrove, President and CEO of Personal PAC. "Her fingerprints are all over the tremendous gains we've made in Illinois in ensuring that our fundamental rights are protected."
Steans played the key legislative role in expanding access to healthcare to hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. She was a strong supporter of social equity legislation, including sponsoring the legalization of cannabis in Illinois that contained the largest criminal drug records expungement and social equity considerations in the country.
The cannabis legalization law, which Steans wrote and passed through the Senate, contains strong social equity requirements that have yet to be realized in the law's implementation. It was the first legal cannabis law in the nation to be created through legislation rather than by referendum and has brought tens of millions of dollars of revenue to state and local coffers during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.
"Heather has been a valiant partner in forcing state government to address the historic racism and discrimination that has left too many of our families behind," said former-state senator Toi Hutchinson. "Heather's voice and leadership in that ongoing battle will be missed."
Steans said that one of her greatest joys as State Senator was working with the many not-for-profit organizations throughout her district, which includes the Rogers Park, Edgewater, Andersonville and Ravenswood neighborhoods of Chicago.
"There are hundreds of people across our community who are working and fighting every day to protect our most vulnerable and give everyone a shot at a better life," Steans said. "It's been my privilege to work closely with those citizen-activists over the past 12 years and I will continue to support their efforts after leaving the Senate."
Steans' resignation is effective Jan. 31, 2021. Her successor will be chosen by a weighted vote of the Democratic committeemen and committeewomen from the wards that make up the Seventh Senate District. Whoever is appointed will serve out the final two years of Steans' term and must run to retain the seat in the 2022 election, when all Illinois House and Senate seats will be on the ballot.
Lambda Legal also commented on Steans' work. Lambda Legal Director of Constitutional Litigation Camilla Taylor said, "Senator Heather Steans defines public service. She has spent the last twelve years making Illinois a safer and more welcoming place for all peopleincluding the LGBTQ community. In 2007, she introduced the Equal Marriage Bill, the very first marriage equality proposal filed in the Illinois Senatekeeping with our state's tradition of leading the way on LGBTQ civil rights. Even though that bill did not pass, Senator Steans persisted. And in 2013, her bill was finally passed and signed into lawguaranteeing marriage equality for Illinois' LGBTQ families, two years before we won the same right nationwide before the Supreme Court.
"Senator Steans' leadership did not stop at marriage. She authored and sponsored countless bills that extend equal protection to the LGBTQ community, people living with HIV and others — enshrining abortion rights and expanding Medicaid access for people across our state.
"Illinois' LGBTQ community is stronger, and our state is a more equal place thanks to Senator Heather Steans."
UPDATE (separate from the press release): House Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who worked with Steans on Illinois' landmark cannabis legislation, told Politico Playbook that she's interested in the Senate seat. "I intend to seek the appointment," she said. House Majority Leader Greg Harris also sits in Steans North Side districtbut told Playbook he's not interested in running.