Thanks to a law that cleared the Illinois General Assembly on Tuesday, public schools may soon be providing a lot more plant-based options.
House Bill 4089 mandates that any student who files a previous request to the district requesting a plant-based lunch choice that conforms with federal dietary guidelines receives one.
The bill’s chief Senate supporter, Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, said the measure was designed to accommodate children with religious, cultural, or health concerns.
Republicans, on the other hand, objected to the law, calling it an unfunded obligation on schools that might lead to even such food regulations.
Schools already have the power to offer plant-based meal alternatives, according to Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, because state law does not ban it.
“And so if we’re going to embrace the notion of local control in allowing our local units of government to make their own decisions, here lies an example of where we can put that to work,” he said.
Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, noted that the Senate Education Committee had had a hearing earlier in the day on Senate Bill 4147, which would mandate schools to provide halal food alternatives. That’s what Islamic law considers to be permitted food.
“It makes you ponder, could you then have a Jewish kosher school required option, or one that is specific to any religious following… So it seemed to us, the Republicans in the Education Committee, that perhaps a task force to study this and how much it costs for a school district to do this, how much of a need there is, should be explored,” she stated.
Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, contended, however, that plant-based diets are often healthier for individuals, and that approval of the measure will help encourage healthier living.
“It doesn’t matter what ethnic group, what your religious background is. The fact of the matter is, it’s simply healthy eating,” she states.
According to Koehler, the bill’s impact may be minor because some districts may not have any pupils asking for a plant-based choice. He also stated that the expense of plant-based diets vs meat-based meals is comparable.
The bill was earlier passed by the House of Representatives on March 4 by a vote of 96-7. It was passed by the Senate 42-10 on Tuesday and will now be forwarded to Governor JB Pritzker for his consideration.
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