Senate Week in Review: November 19-23

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Illinois lawmakers are gearing up for the annual fall veto session beginning Nov. 27, according to State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris).

The annual, two-week session is focused on reviewing legislation passed during the spring session but rejected outright or altered by Gov. Pat Quinn in the months following the regular legislative session.

This year, few proposals made it into the veto column; however, some potentially controversial issues could be decided. The Governor used his total veto power to reject four measures, used his amendatory veto power to rewrite three bills and used his budget veto powers to either reduce or eliminate about $68 million in spending contained in three separate bills, Sen. Rezin said.

Pension Problems Overshadow Session
Overshadowing the veto session may be concerns about the future of the state’s retirement systems for teachers and other public employees, Sen. Rezin said. Quinn recently launched his long-promised “grassroots” campaign to promote pension reform.

But, no action is expected on pension changes until January, because the Illinois Constitution requires that any measures passed before the New Year cannot go into effect until next July, unless they receive an extraordinary majority vote. The contentious nature of pension changes makes it unlikely that the measure could receive such support.

Effort to Close Prisons Goes to Supreme Court
Both the veto session and the pension reform campaign highlight the need to control state spending. However, efforts to cut spending hit another roadblock when the Fifth Appellate Court in Mt. Vernon recently reaffirmed an Alexander County judge’s decision to block the proposed closures of seven Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice facilities.

Following the court ruling released Nov. 16, the Quinn administration must now appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Quinn Launches Grassroots Campaign
Gov. Quinn first promised to launch a grassroots pension reform campaign last summer, but then delayed the startup until after the November election. He announced the “Thanks in Advance” drive Nov. 19 with a press conference and unveiling of a video, a new Web site and social media sites, all intended to build pressure to change state-funded public pension plans.

Featured in the campaign is “Squeezy the Pension Python,” a giant orange cartoon snake that is pictured squeezing the Illinois Capitol building.

The campaign does not, however, spell out any solutions to the pension crisis. It contains a history of the state’s pension underfunding that places the blame on past governors and national economic conditions, while skipping over Quinn’s own use of borrowing to avoid making pension payments. The history also fails to mention the 2005 pension raid (SB 27) approved over Republican objections and focuses instead on national events, such as “The Dot-Com Crash” and “The Great Recession.”

Quinn has urged lawmakers to take up pension changes in January, most likely during a lame-duck legislative session that has been extended to six-and-a-half days, from Jan. 2-9. The new General Assembly is to be sworn in mid-day on Jan. 9.

Vetoed Bills to Be Reviewed by Lawmakers
State spending cuts, ammunition sales, casino gambling and even plastic shopping bags are among the topics of legislation vetoed or rewritten by the Governor through his amendatory veto power. Here is a rundown of the legislation that must be taken up during the annual veto session, which starts Nov. 27:

Senate Bill 681 was originally meant to allow Illinois residents to make online purchases of ammunition from Illinois-based businesses. Illinois residents can already buy ammunition online from suppliers outside of Illinois, but a glitch in the law prevented similar purchases from Illinois-based retailers. The Governor completely rewrote the proposal to turn it into a ban on semi-automatic firearms. The Governor’s changes are opposed by the sponsors of the original measure, who must decide if they will move to override the Governor’s changes or let the measure die and re-introduce the legislation next year.

Senate Bill 1849 authorized a casino for the City of Chicago, in addition to four new land-based casino licenses for other communities and gambling outlets at the state’s horseracing tracks.  Although the Governor vetoed the measure, in recent weeks he has indicated an interest in negotiating an expansion of gambling, including a casino for Chicago. Gaming supporters are unlikely to attempt to override the Governor’s veto, but may instead try to negotiate a new measure.  Although the legislation has good elements in terms of helping soil and water conservation districts and racetracks, it is still a huge expansion of gambling and Sen. Rezin did not support the bill in the Senate.  

Senate Bill 2332 was a major capitol construction funding bill. The Governor used his appropriation veto power to remove $11.3 million in funds for loans to fire departments, fire protection districts, township fire departments or non-profit ambulance services.

Senate Bill 2409 was another spending measure. The Governor used his power to reduce spending to cut $800,000 from the Department of Agriculture for the Centralia Animal Disease Laboratory. The Agriculture Department intends to close the Centralia lab and move responsibilities to a state lab based in Galesburg.

Senate Bill 2474 was signed into law but altered by the Governor to reduce or eliminate spending for several correctional facilities including prisons at Tamms and Dwight, and Illinois Youth Centers (IYC) in Murphysboro and Joliet. In all, the Governor cut $56 million from the measure.

Senate Bill 2945 was designed to give private cancer treatment centers the right not to hire persons who smoke or otherwise use tobacco. The Governor vetoed the measure.

Senate Bill 3442 was originally intended to set up one statewide regulation on the use of plastic bags instead of allowing local communities to regulate or ban the use of plastic bags.  Concerns have been raised over the possibility that hundreds of cities and towns might pass their own version of regulations making it difficult and costly for businesses that operate throughout the state to comply with hundreds of different regulations. However, some environmental groups argued that the legislation was not aggressive enough and urged the Governor to veto the measure, which he did.

Senate Bill 3766 was a follow-up to legislation approved last year to encourage the building and operation of the Leucadia coal-to-gas energy plant in the Chicago south suburbs. This bill would have required two utilities to increase the amount of power they buy from the plant.  The Governor vetoed the legislation, raising concerns that it could increase the cost of electricity for consumers. The plant’s developers have recently said they will likely move the project to another state.

House Bill 4673 would authorize the Illinois State Police to issue a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card (FOID) to law enforcement officials who have voluntarily undergone mental health treatment.  The Governor altered the original bill requiring more oversight of when and to which officers the FOID cards are issued.  He also inserted some protections for officers whose FOID card status or eligibility is being questioned. The original legislation grew out of a problem encountered by Chicago police officers. The City of Chicago requires that police officers have a valid FOID card, but state law required anyone undergoing in-patient mental health treatment to surrender their FOID card. This meant that an officer who voluntarily sought mental health treatment following a personal or professional trauma could lose his or her job.

House Bill 5207 originally dealt with the verification of signatures for petitions used to place proposed state constitutional amendments on the ballot.  However, the Governor altered the proposal to allow voters to pass by referendum a local property tax increase to pay for special services for veterans.

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