CHICAGO — If some state lawmakers have their way, former President Barack Obama’s birthday soon will be a holiday in Illinois.
Three bills are being debated in the Illinois House and Senate that would honor Obama's Aug. 4 birthday.
The two House bills would create a legal holiday, which would close state offices and schools the Monday after the former president's birthday. Businesses would have the option of closing. The Senate bill lays out plans for a commemorative day that would not require any offices to close.
The House bills would create the first new state holiday in 40 years and would be the first time a living president was ever honored with a legal holiday in the state.
In his call for the holiday state Rep. André Thapedi (D-Ashburn) said other states honor presidents. Texas honors Lyndon B. Johnson and California honors Ronald Reagan. He said Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and part of Illinois history.
“I thought those distinctions meant he should be honored — he’s basically an Illinoisan,” Thapedi said Monday.
He introduced a similar bill last year, but it failed to move forward because Obama was still in office and the costs of closing state offices was estimated to be $3.2 million.
Thapedi said he thinks the bill has a better chance now that Obama’s out of office, and he's asked that the cost estimates be reassessed.
“Recognizing fiscal constraints we’re under now, it would not be unreasonable to take those things into consideration,” Thapedi said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner's office did not immediately respond to questions about whether Rauner would support the proposal.
State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Back of the Yards) has introduced a bill that copies Thapedi’s bill word for word.
She said she believed Obama was one of the greatest presidents of her lifetime and should be afforded the full honor of a state holiday.
Harper said she was unaware of any similarities ot Thapedi's bill and said she suspected they were both written by the same staffer at the Legislative Reference Bureau, which helps draft legislation for lawmakers.
She said the bills will be combined in the committee review process or one will move forward.
Illinois was the first state in the country to adopt Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1973.
Casmir Pulaski Day was instituted by the Legislature in 1977. Chicago closes city offices in recognition of the birthday of the Revolutionary War cavalry officer, but state offices do not close.