Illinois Legislature Rejects Bill That Would Recognize Obama’s Birthday as State Holiday

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• March 22, 2017 10:40 am


The Illinois legislature rejected a bill on Tuesday that would recognize former Illinois Senator and President Barack Obama's birthday as a state holiday.

Although Obama received a warm reception from his former colleagues last year when he delivered a speech on the Illinois House floor, lawmakers voted against designating his birthday as a state holiday, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Under a new proposal, state facilities and schools would close each year on Aug. 4, Obama's birthday. But opponents said while it might be good to recognize the former president and ex-state lawmaker, people shouldn't get the day off work. The House measure received 54 votes, six votes short of what it needed to be approved and sent to Obama's old stomping grounds in the Illinois Senate.

Sponsoring Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, used a parliamentary move that will keep the measure alive for another try should she gather enough support. A dozen members of the House didn't vote.

"President Barack Obama, he did great work for the state of Illinois and our country, and I believe we need to do our part in preserving that history," Rep. Harper said.

Republicans opposed the bill over concerns for the economic impact of closing state buildings, and the "inconsistent ways" that former presidents are recognized in the state. They cited Ronald Reagan as an example, saying the Tampico-born president doesn't have a holiday honoring him.

In attempt to rise above partisan differences, Republican members in the House said they could support the bill if the day would be considered an informal day of recognition, where state and school buildings didn't close. Republican Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner's budget office estimated that state holidays cost $3.2 million in personal expenses in addition to $16 million in lost productivity, according to the Tribune.

"The concept you are working on here, giving President Obama a day, I think is deserved. I think it's appropriate, but I have a couple of questions about how we are doing it," said Republican Rep. Steve Andersson.

Andersson went on to say that Illinois could not afford the costs associated with another state holiday, and he didn't believe a state holiday was necessary for recognizing Obama's impact on the state.

Harper disagreed with the Republicans' concerns, saying, "if nothing more, the stores have good sales on President's Day and Washington Day."

She also said that it was important for the state to recognize the nation's first African-American president, suggesting the holiday be used for volunteer and community improvement events, the Tribune reported.

"Personally, to me, he helped me to get motivated, get up in my community and organize my community to be the change that we want to see, and we are seeing right now on the ground," Harper said.

Other state proposals to honor Obama include labeling the stretch of Interstate 55 from the Tri-State Tollway to East St. Louis the "Barack Obama Presidential Expressway." A separate measure would dub the Tri-State the "President Barack Obama Tollway."