Illinois’ only Indian-American Senator discusses hospitality industry at Town Hall



Illinois State Senator Ram Villivalam, who represents the 8th District in his state, held a Town Hall April 26, 2019, at Skokie Public Library. (Photo: Courtesy Office of Illinois Sen. Villivalam)

Democratic State Senator Ram Villivalam who represents the 8th District in Illinois, and is the only Indian-American ever, to be elected to the state legislature, held a town hall April 24, at the Skokie Public Library.

This is the latest of several Town Hall discussions Villivalam has made into a tradition within the short time he has been in office. The event, which was attended by around 200 constituents, was webcast live on Facebook and available for later viewing by the public.

Sen. Villivalam was joined by U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, and State Representative Yehiel Mark Kalish, a Democrat who represents the 16th District.

Villivalam said he was excited about the work done in the last few months in Springfield, and he wanted to make sure that he got feedback from constituents so that the remaining five weeks of legislative sessions could take up meaningful issues.

He urged those present to ask questions on issues that they were concerned about. Most of the event was dominated by questions from the audience on both federal and local issues including gun-ownership and tax laws.

Villivalam began by paying homage to Edward James, 22, a Skokie resident who was shot to death April 16, and urged people to raise money to support the family. The audience also held a moment of silence to remember the person killed.

Villivalam noted that 8 pieces of legislation had been passed in the last few months, and two of them which he particularly liked and worked on, including SB0075 which creates the Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act, requiring hotels and casinos to adopt anti-sexual harassment policies and make panic buttons available to workers. The audience cheered with a loud applause to this information. Villivalam was the lead sponsor of this bill SB0075, according to the records available in the Illinois General Assembly website.

Illinois State Sen. Ram Villivalam, the only Indian-American elected to the state legislator, discussing issues at a school meeting. (Photo posted April 25, 2019, on Villivalam’s Facebook)

The Indian-American lawmaker also spoke about how this legislation furthers protections for those working in the hospitality industry, an issue that would be of interest to Indian-American hotel and motel owners who own a large part of that industry nationwide.

“Sexual harassment against service workers is an oft-ignored epidemic, with 58% of hotel workers and 77% of casino workers reporting some kind of harassment or unwanted advance from a guest,” Villivalam said. “Those numbers are absolutely unacceptable, and I decided to do something about it.”

The second bill he said he was proud of bringing to the legislative floor had to do with “protecting and advancing” immigrant rights. He said immigrants, including those who are undocument/illegal, were afraid to report injustices because they believed their immigrant status would be threatened. “I’m making sure immigrants are not fearful when they come forward to report an injustice,” Villivalam said at the Town Hall.

The bill that he was the chief sponsor of, SB1429, would make a person’s immigration status generally inadmissible in civil proceedings unless it is essential to prove aspects of a case.

“No immigrant should be fearful of coming forward to report an injustice, whether it be a workers’ compensation issue or an instance of sexual assault,” Villivalam said when he introduced the legislation April 11. “If it’s not relevant to the case, it should be off limits.”
This legislation is now with the Illinois State House for consideration.

In addition, Sen. Villivalam took questions regarding changes to the tax system in Illinois.

“It took decades of poor decisions to get Illinois in its current fiscal situation. Turning our finances around will be hard, but one way to start is to explore our options to close the corporate loopholes that exist today because quite frankly it’s not appropriate given our financial situation,” Villivalam said. “We need to also explore additional revenue sources that are going to be available to us such as sports betting and legalizing cannabis, and I look forward to partaking in these discussions with my colleagues as we close out the spring session.”

United States Congresswoman Schakowsky urged people to approach her office for any problems they face, and answered questions on where the Congress was with regard to gun laws.

State Rep. Kalish addressed the issue of gun ownership and related legislation. He also spoke of legislation in the works for Charter School, with a bill that would give any person the right to put forward their names for membership on the Charter School boards, “because Charter Schools are public schools,” Kalish said.





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