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SPRINGFIELD – Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) led a measure that was signed into law today to expand disability benefits for some frontline state employees, protect retail workers from assault, and allow horse racetrack casino, or racino, employees to organize.


“As we continue to adapt to the changes forced on us by the current pandemic, we have to also create a response that addresses the long-time issues it has exacerbated,” Lightford said. “Our essential workers put their lives at risk for us to stay safe, and it is clear that we have to continue to do better to protect working class people with a renewed commitment to providing basic rights for everyone.”

Certain state employees, including firefighters, law enforcement and paramedics, would be eligible for an additional 60 days of paid disability leave if their injury recovery has been hindered by difficulties accessing treatment due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

To recognize the enhanced roles being asked of retail workers, battery of a retail worker would be enhanced to aggravated battery if the worker was performing duties like relaying directions for health care or safety, or when it’s committed during a declared disaster or state of emergency due to a public health emergency and for six months after either declaration. 

“Retail workers now have an added responsibility to help enforce healthcare guidelines that protect all of us,” Lightford said. “It is unfortunate that we have to protect individuals who are just trying to keep a roof over their heads from those who refuse to follow simple guidelines, like wearing a face mask.”

Under the legislation, racino employees would also have the opportunity to engage in collective bargaining as a requirement for any horse racetrack with more than 10 employees that wants to expand to include a casino.

“Racetrack employees have fought for proper working conditions for years,” Lightford said. “Allowing them to unionize gives those workers an opportunity to have their voices heard and a stronger hand as they negotiate their own wellbeing at work.”

Senate Bill 471 is effective immediately.