Bill would require most new school construction to include storm shelter

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation requiring any new school construction to include storm shelters has been sent to the governor for approval.

The Illinois Senate approved HB 2513, which mandates that any new school construction or remodeling that includes classroom space must include a storm shelter. The measure was approved, 43-14.

Among area senators, Democrat Mike Frerichs of Champaign and Republican Bill Brady of Bloomington, voted yes, while Republicans Dale Righter of Mattoon and Jason Barickman of Bloomington voted no. Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, did not vote.

Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, the sponsor of the measure, said parents deserve assurance that students and faculty would be safe in school in the event of a tornado. Koehler's district includes Washington, Ill., which was heavily damaged by tornadoes on Nov. 17, 2013, the same day that a twister roared through Gifford in Champaign County.

But Republicans including Righter argued that the legislation was another unfunded state mandate and that if local school officials wanted to include storm shelters in construction projects they were free to do so without it being written into state law.

The legislation says only that the storm shelters should meet the minimum standards set out by the International Code Council and the National Storm Shelter Association.

Opponents said, however, that the shelters would have to be large enough to provide 5 square feet for each person in a school, and would need to withstand winds up to 250 mph.

Koehler said the storm shelters would not have to be special buildings — they could be extra-secure classrooms — and that they would add only 20 cents to 40 cents per square foot in costs to a school project.

The bill already has cleared the House.

Also Tuesday, a measure that would have required school officials to enforce rules against so-called cyberbullying — even if it did not occur on a school campus — fell short of passage.

The bill, HB 4207, was placed on postponed consideration, a parliamentary maneuver that allows it to be brought up for a vote again.

Righter also led the opposition to the cyberbullying measure.

"This is so far outside the realm of what a school district should be doing," Righter said. "We're giving the school cops the opportunity to regulate Internet activity engaged in by students by computer not on a school campus having absolutely nothing to do with school activity."

Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, called the measure "an overreach of school authority," and Sen. Bil Haine, D-Alton, said it was "over the top."

In the House Tuesday, Democrats approved, 71-43, a bill sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan that puts an advisory referendum on raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The legislation, which now moves to the Senate for approval, was supported by Democrats but opposed by Republicans. The advisory referendum is seen as a way of boosting Democratic voter turnout at the November general election.

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