Openly gay State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, convened the seven-member House Committee on Youth and Family Feb. 10, marking the first time the House has dedicated a committee strictly to youth and family issues.
The Youth and Family Committee was created for the 96th General Assembly to work on many matters that affect families throughout the state. Harris told Windy City Times that the committee will initially look at "the totality off all issues affecting families and young people throughout the state of Illinois, which [ covers everything from ] educational alternatives to extracurricular alternatives to service programs to departments in state governments that serve youth or families, such as the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice." He added that "it could be an especially interesting assignment this year because when Gov. [ Pat ] Quinn came to the Democratic caucus [ recently ] and spoke to us, he said that his number-one priority is to focus on expanding on youth and family programming, and to reevaluate what we're doing." Harris said that the committee will look at issues concerning every demographic, including LGBT individuals, people who live in rural ideas and homeless youth.
Harris also took time to refute a news report that stated that a same-sex marriage bill was to be discussed during the committee's first meeting, although he added that it will be discussed "at some point. My m.o. is that I did introduce a same-sex marriage bill, I'm going to talk to my colleagues and ask for their vote. If there aren't enough votes to pass through the Illinois General Assembly, I will introduce a civil-union bill so that while we work toward full marriage equality—which is my goal— [ there will be ] an intermediate step to help people who need the basic rights and protections today."
"It has been over 27 years since Illinois had a comprehensive plan on how youth and family services are funded," Harris said. "Twenty-seven years ago, the Internet did not exist, personal computers did not exist and cell phones did not exist. The world is vastly different. We need to be sure that we're surveying our families in ways that are in the 21st century."