CPZ EOSQuoteSPRINGFIELD – As the inaugural chair of the Senate Early Childhood Education Committee, State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas is thrilled that investing in early childhood is a priority in this year’s budget. 

“90% of the brain develops before a child turns five. Therefore, early experiences matter. Access to high quality early care and education, health care, and nutrition sets the foundation for better economic, social and health outcomes throughout life,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “This budget works to fill in the gaps in our existing child care system and early childhood programs, transforming the outcomes for Illinois children and establishing our state as the best in the country to raise a family.”

The Fiscal Year 2024 budget allocates $250 million to the Smart Start Illinois early childhood initiative. The multi-year plan provides a comprehensive approach to investments in preparing children to live up to their greatest potential, and invests in ISBE Early Childhood Block Grant, Childcare Workforce Compensation Contracts, early intervention programs, the DHS Home Visiting Program, Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity Scholarships and $50 million for early childhood capital improvements.

“With these appropriations, more families will soon have greater access to send their child to high quality preschool as Smart Start investments seek to eliminate ‘preschool deserts,’” said Pacione-Zayas. “In addition, child care providers will receive more relief and support from the state, decreasing burnout and increasing staffing. Because of these investments in families and providers, the Smart Start Illinois initiative is a monumental step to improving early childhood development.”

In addition to the state budget’s focus on early childhood, the proposal continues funding to the Reimagine Public Safety Act, which targets investments to prevent gun violence and expands supports for youth employment programs. Moreover, the budget invests $350 million to support affordable housing and other initiatives to prevent housing insecurity — an $85 million increase from last year.

“In my own neighborhood, many  families have been forced out of their homes due to rent increases, which not only negatively impacts the livelihoods of individuals, but also disrupts  the generations of community members that have been instrumental in building our streets and cities,” said Pacione-Zayas. “I am thrilled that we are making an investment in affordable housing solutions to fight gentrification and support families who wish to stay in communities their ancestors helped to shape.”

The budget package will move to the House for consideration before heading to the governor’s desk.

Category: Press Releases

cpz 1119SPRINGFIELD – In order to center the lived experiences of people who have been incarcerated in conversations and groups working to address injustices in the criminal legal system, State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas is leading an initiative requiring two members of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Board be people who have experienced the criminal legal system firsthand.

“Without those who have firsthand experience of going  through the criminal legal system, we lose what should be an indispensable perspective. In our highest institutions we need to empower those who can speak directly to the carceral system and can inform how we enact effective change,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “True reform and true justice start by taking the voices of those affected by the system seriously. We start doing that by ensuring their seat at the table.”

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Board develops programs for the improvement of law enforcement and the administration of the criminal legal system. Currently, the board is made up of 25 members serving four-year terms without compensation, 11 of whom are voting members appointed by the governor. The board administers private, state and federal grant programs related to all phases of the administration of criminal justice. The members also engage in research on the federal, state and local criminal legal systems.

To ensure that people with lived experience in the criminal legal system have a voice in making decisions about how it should work, House Bill 1119 would require that two out of the 6 public members of this board are individuals who have been incarcerated.

"We need people with lived experience at the table making the decisions about our criminal legal system," said State Representative Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). "This bill will make the Criminal Justice Information Authority more diverse, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of the people it serves."

“HB 1119 will be critical in providing important perspectives for policymakers from those in the Illinois criminal justice system, especially Black and Latinx individuals who are disproportionately impacted, as well as addressing inmates’ mental health,” said Hannah Keller, Midwest Policy Manager for Young Invincibles. “Uplifting the need for representation of those with lived experience in the policymaking process is essential and this bill provides necessary action to do just that.”

House Bill 1119 passed the Senate on Friday.

Category: Press Releases

cpz 2350SPRINGFIELD – To ensure people of all genders have access to the health care they need, Senator Pacione-Zayas’ new legislation will remove gendered restrictions in insurance codes regarding coverage of pap smears or prostate exams. 

“Transgender and gender non-conforming people have historically struggled with accessing health care, which has led to adverse health effects. Making language in the insurance code gender inclusive, rather than gender specific, removes barriers to accessing care aligned with people’s biology versus gender identity and lowers the risk of denial of care reported by transgender individuals,” Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago) said. “The Trans and gender non-conforming community already faces myriad obstacles to basic services. This legislation is a small but important step in correcting this longtime shortcoming of our healthcare system that prevents too many from getting the live-saving care they need.”

The current Illinois insurance code is gender-specific, meaning patients who are listed as female or male can only be covered for pap smears or prostate exams respectively. This specificity prevents many patients from getting the care they need if they are not registered as the same gender as they were assigned at birth. With these restrictions, patients may not be able to access necessary cancer screenings without incurring massive out-of-pocket costs.

House Bill 2350 would make the insurance code gender-inclusive rather than gender-specific, removing barriers to accessing care aligned with people’s biology versus gender identity and lowers the risk of denial of care reported by transgender individuals.  Additionally, this initiative would require prostate screenings for people 40 years and older who have a genetic predisposition to prostate cancer, which would ensure that insurance covers important preventative treatment.

This issue was highlighted in the Reproductive Justice working group in response to the Dobbs decision by State Representative Kelly Cassidy, who was the House sponsor of the bill.

“Early detection and prevention are key to saving lives,” said State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago). “We should remove any barriers we can identify that prevent people from getting the care that they need, in particular barriers that impact vulnerable populations like the trans community.”

House Bill 2350 passed the Senate on May 4.

Category: Press Releases

cpz 3648SPRINGFIELD – After the Higher Education in Prison Task Force conducted a yearlong analysis of the current higher education opportunities for people who are incarcerated, Task Force members State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas and State Representative Carol Ammons have proposed changes based on the results of the study to improve educational opportunities for people who are incarcerated.

“It can be challenging for people who are incarcerated to come back to their communities or find work after serving time,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “Offering college courses or a path to get a degree while in prison can  ease this transition and promote rehabilitation instead of punishment. However, there needs to be more transparency and accountability for these programs as reports have demonstrated they are not accessible to folks who are qualified.”

Over the past year, the Illinois Higher Education in Prison Task Force has been analyzing the existing state of higher education programs for people who are incarcerated. This study assessed barriers and opportunities potential students may face, and used evidence gathered to propose ways existing programs can be improved to better support people seeking further education.

House Bill 3648 would continue the work of the task force by requiring the Illinois Department of Corrections to release a report including data such as student enrollment, completion rates, demographics, and educational program spending. It also requires the colleges and universities offering classes to people in prisons to report the academic information of each student to the Board of Higher Education. Both of these reports must also be published online to improve transparency of the program and determine areas where the programs can become more accessible.

“Proper access to higher education programs while incarcerated is one step in the right direction towards rehabilitation,” said State Representative Ammons (D-Champaign), who carried the legislation through the House. “This bill is a hope for incarcerated people that they will be able to secure living-wage jobs much sooner upon release.”

“While we have made steps to better support people who are incarcerated during their time in prison to enter the workforce once they are released, there are still barriers that prevent folks who have interest in these programs from being able to access them,” said Pacione-Zayas. “I hope that this legislation will highlight areas that need to be improved in the current system so that more people can access these life-changing educational resources.”

House Bill 3648 passed the Senate on Thursday.

Category: Press Releases

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