Illinois State Senator Sue Rezin, R-Morris, was one of many Republican senators who opposed changes to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act. | Provided Photo

(The Center Square) – The Illinois General Assembly passed changes on Thursday to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act which will allow employers to fire workers who refuse COVID-19 mandates.

The Health Care Right of Conscience Act that has been in Illinois state statute for decades prohibits discrimination against anyone for objecting to a medical procedure for religious reasons.

Over the past 20 months, COVID-19 mandates from Gov. J.B. Pritzker have evolved, including a mandate for health care workers and educators to get vaccinated.

In Chicago, thousands of police could be punished for not complying with the mayor’s vaccine mandate.

Others worried vaccine mandates will hurt staffing shortages already being felt with emergency management services and daycare centers.

There have been several temporary restraining orders issued by courts around the state prohibiting some health company employers from punishing employees for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, or to submit to tests, citing the HCRCA.

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During a committee hearing Thursday on the House amendments to Senate Bill 1169, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said the HCRCA needs to change to clarify people can’t refuse to comply with COVID-19 mandates like testing.

Harmon equated COVID-19 testing to breath-alcohol tests for those suspected of driving under the influence.

Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, countered that during committee.

“In your case of the breathalyzer, it’s an established law. The [COVID] testing and the vaccination mandate are not law,” Tracy said.

“What difference does that make,” Harmon responded.

“It does make a difference because it’s an established law,” Tracy said.

Tens of thousands of Illinoisans filed witness slips in opposition to proposed changes that carve out any COVID-19 mitigation.

Illinois State Senator Sue Rezin, R-Morris, printed out over 80,000 opposition slips that were filed by people as she spoke against the changes.

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Ryan Cunning, with the group Speak For Students, testified in committee Thursday. He urged lawmakers to reject the changes

“We have seen the largest grassroots movement across the state of Illinois in which parents have risen up and made their voices heard in the amount of witness slips that have been filed over the course of this bill,” Cunning said.

“The state is watching, the nation is watching, the country is watching. So your actions in which you take today, people are watching and will hold people accountable for such,” Cunning said.

Despite the historic levels of opposition where with tens of thousands of Illinoisans filing opposition witness splits, Democratic leadership passed the measure with a simple majority.

The House approved it with a 64-52 vote, while the Senate approved it with a 31-24 vote.

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It is expected the governor will sign the measure, which will go into effect on July 1, 2022.

“We have effective tools to fight this pandemic – namely, vaccines, masks and testing – and all of our communities are safer when we use the public health and workplace safety protocols we know to work,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement.