Rich Miller: Data privacy bill backed by Giannoulias needs work to reach finish line

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I’m not sure I’ve seen a stranger roll call than last week’s House vote on Senate Bill 2978. The data privacy bill is an initiative of Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, and he was on the House floor during the debate. 

The far-right ginned up social media opposition to the bill by claiming that it would allow non-citizens to vote. More than 1,400 electronic witness slips have so far been filed in opposition.

Groups like the Illinois Freedom Alliance and the Illinois Conservative Union claimed on Facebook that the bill will “interfere with verification of citizenship of voters.” The Illinois Family Institute went even further in a recent email blast, claiming, “As it is written, this bill will likely be used to allow non-citizens to vote in our elections.”

Accusations from the far-right that Democrats will use the votes of undocumented residents to “steal” the 2024 election have gained significant national traction over the past months. Usually, no evidence is presented, and you can chalk up this latest freakout to yet another misunderstanding of the basic lawmaking process.

The offending language is actually already in state statute, an official with the secretary of state’s office explained during a House Executive Committee hearing last week. The bill drafters simply “recodified” it. A search of state statutes shows those claims to be accurate. 

The official also said that the secretary of state voter registration system “does prevent anybody that is not provided citizenship information from being transmitted to register to vote.” 

But the loud, conspiracy-minded opposition stampeded Republican committee members away from the bill, and so it passed the committee on a partisan roll call. 

The ACLU of Illinois is also strongly opposed to the bill, but for an entirely different reason. 

The civil liberties group claims the measure “could be read as permitting data-sharing with federal or out-of-state law enforcement who are investigating or enforcing laws that criminalize abortion or gender-affirming care in other jurisdictions.” 

“We believe that the bill should be amended to be clear that our data should not be used to identify people seeking, providing, or assisting with reproductive or gender-affirming care – health care Illinois has made a policy decision to protect,” the ACLU IL continued. “This could be accomplished by enacting protections similar to last year’s automated license plate reader bill.”

Secretary Giannoulias never convinced the group to drop its opposition.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), a legislative leader on abortion and trans rights, rose in debate to point out that “Indiana law enforcement could ask the secretary to provide information related to an Illinois license plate on a car used in connection with an Indiana resident accessing abortion care in Illinois.” 

Rep. Cassidy also objected to the bill by noting that it does not have the same standard language inserted “several times” in other bills to make it “explicitly clear that the data would not be used to identify people seeking, providing or assisting with lawful health care.” She also said she was “deeply concerned” that the data could be sold, “given that that’s allowed as well.”

In a shocking defeat, the entire Republican caucus and three House Democrats voted “No,” while numerous other Democrats skipped the vote. The bill wound up with 57 votes, three shy of passage, as Secretary White looked on.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a legislative chamber reject a bill supported by a statewide officeholder while that official was standing among the members.

The sponsor, Rep. Margaret Croke (D-Chicago), put it on what’s called Postponed Consideration, meaning she could bring the bill up for a vote again. Some House Democrats were legitimately absent, but this bill needs to be retooled. 

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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