Illinois Makes August Fourth 'Barack Obama Day'

| by Robert Fowler

Illinois has officially commemorated Aug. 4 as a state holiday to honor former President Barack Obama. An original proposal for the holiday would have allowed for businesses and schools to shut down on the date, but that was rejected by the state legislature and replaced with a celebration without time off.

On Aug. 4, GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois signed his state's Senate Bill 55 into law. The legislation was introduced by Democratic state Sen. Emil Jones III of Illinois and proposed establishing Obama's birthday as a commemorative statewide holiday, WMAQ reports.

Under Senate Bill 55, a new Barack Obama Day will be "observed throughout the State as a day set apart to honor the 44th President of the United States of America who began his career serving the People of Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate, and dedicated his life to protecting the rights of Americans and building bridges across communities."

Jones' bill did not receive a single opposing vote in the Illinois Legislature, although several lawmakers did abstain from supporting or blunting the legislation. The commemorative holiday will go into effect on Aug. 4, 2018.

On March 21, a House bill that proposed a legal holiday to commemorate the president was rejected. The legislation would have closed down state facilities and schools, and would have given businesses the option of closing shop to celebrate Obama's birthday. The bill was unable to accrue the 60 votes necessary to pass in the Illinois Senate, the Chicago Tribune reports.

GOP lawmakers in the Illinois legislature supported a celebration of Obama but were against making the date a legal holiday. Rauner cited concerns that closing down businesses annually on Aug. 4 could cost the state up to $19.2 million in personnel costs and lost productivity. Lawmakers who were in favor of the legislation asserted that Obama's stature in the state merited a legal holiday.

"Personally, to me, [Obama] helped me to get motivated, get up in my community and organize my community to be the change that we wanted to see, and we are seeing right now on the ground," said Democratic state Rep. Sonya Harper of Illinois, a co-sponsor of the House bill.

In February, Rauner asserted that a potential Barack Obama Day should not "be a formal holiday with paid, forced time off, but I think it should be a day of acknowledgment and celebration."

Now the former president will have a commemorative holiday in the state where he got his start in politics, similar to former President Ronald Reagan. In July 2010, former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California signed legislation to establish Reagan's birthday, Feb. 6, as a commemorative holiday in The Golden State, according to KPCC.

On Jan. 10, Obama gave his presidential farewell speech in Chicago, Illinois' most prominent city.

"I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life," Obama said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills," the outgoing president continued. "It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it."

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