Senate Week in Review: December 10-14

SPRINGFIELD- A Federal Court in Chicago added a new issue to the General Assembly’s ever-growing agenda for 2013, when it ruled Dec. 11 that the state’s current ban on carrying concealed weapons is unconstitutional, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.

Also during the week, the state received another warning from a major credit rating agency, the state Supreme Court cleared the path for prison closures and the Governor released another in a series of pension reform videos, Sen. Rezin added.

State credit outlook lowered by Moody’s
Moody’s Investors Service revised the State of Illinois’ credit outlook to “negative” from stable, but left the state’s general obligation bond rating unchanged. A negative outlook from any of the three major credit ratings is generally considered a warning that further downgrades are coming if the state does not get its fiscal house in order. Among all states, Illinois already ranks alongside California at the bottom of credit ratings.

State’s concealed carry ban ruled unconstitutional
In a decision cheered by gun rights advocates, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that Illinois’ current ban on carrying concealed weapons is unconstitutional.  

In doing so, the court gave the General Assembly 180 days to construct a new right-to-carry law. The court-mandated change in the law guarantees that the issue will be a major topic during the 2013 session, Sen. Rezin said.

However, the day after the ruling, Governor Quinn, while answering questions during an unrelated press conference, seemed to link right-to-carry legislation with his long-sought ban on semi-automatic weapons. Earlier this year, Quinn attempted to rewrite an innocuous measure on ammunition purchases into a firearms ban. That effort was soundly rejected by the General Assembly this month.

Quinn’s ploy, however, could backfire if the legislature fails to enact a right-to-carry bill or he refuses to sign such legislation, because it could leave the state with no limits or restrictions on concealed carry.

Supreme Court weighs-in on prison closures
Also during the week, the Illinois Supreme Court weighed in on Governor Quinn’s efforts to close several prisons in the state, giving him a green light to proceed.

The state Supreme Court ordered an Alexander County judge to dissolve a preliminary injunction that had blocked the Quinn administration from completing the closures, which were initially scheduled to go into effect by Oct. 31.

Quinn releases pension video
And, in the ongoing debate over public pension reform, the Governor released another video, this time featuring a group of children who get bored with a technical explanation of pension funding. Described by the Governor’s office as a “hilarious two-minute video” the children decide to hire a lobbyist to represent their interests, with the lobbyist interviews apparently to be featured in a second video.

As in the case with previous videos, the Governor’s latest effort offers no solution or plan.

A closer look at the right-to-carry decision
On the issue of right-to-carry, last year Illinois became the last state to prohibit concealed carry when Wisconsin lifted its ban.  Under current law, it is illegal for a person to carry or possess a firearm in a vehicle or conceal one on his or her body except on the person’s own land or in their place of business.

In the majority opinion Judge Richard Posner wrote, “The theoretical and empirical evidence (which is overall inconclusive) is consistent with concluding that a right to carry firearms in public may promote self-defense.”  Posner also pointed out that if Illinois’ law was, “demonstrably superior,” that at least one other state would have adopted it.

“Guns in public expose all nearby to risk, and the risk of accidental discharge or bad aim has lethal consequences,” wrote Judge Ann Williams in her dissenting opinion.

The ruling recognizes that while the current ban is not constitutional, “reasonable limitations” promoting public safety would be.  Such restrictions could limit where concealed carry would be allowed making exceptions for places like government buildings, churches, schools, and universities.  Mandatory training and licensing and preventing those who had been convicted of domestic violence, felonies, and other crimes from carrying would also be reasonable limitations.  

Despite the ruling, the debate over concealed carry may be far from over.  Should Tuesday’s decision be appealed by the Attorney General, the 7th Circuit would issue a stay until the case is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Additionally, if the General Assembly is unable to come up with a law that meets the approval of the 7th Circuit Court, or if the law is challenged, the ultimate fate of concealed carry could end up in the hands of the Supreme Court. 

Illinois considering a proposal to borrow $4 billion to pay backlog of bills
Despite the January 2011 67 percent tax increase that was promised to be used to pay down the backlog of Illinois’ bills, the state legislature is now considering borrowing another $4 billion to pay down its debt.  As of the beginning of December, there were 196,141 unpaid bills at the comptroller’s office, for a total backlog of $6.9 billion. 

Opponents to the borrowing, including Sen. Rezin, say that borrowing more money exacerbates the problem rather than solving the problem.  

“Borrowing might pay off one set of bills, but it creates another set to be paid off,” Sen. Rezin said.  “It’s a simple concept, but we seem to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result when that different result is not going to happen.  Borrowing $4 billion is going to add to our debt, not decrease it.”  
The borrowing proposal is House Bill 6240.  Sen. Rezin said she will not support the legislation.

RTA releases new web app aimed to help with holiday travel
With the holidays approaching, residents and visitors in the Chicagoland area are traveling more than any other time of the year.  To help make trips more convenient, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) has released the new goroo web app as a part of the agency’s overall effort to enhance the customer experience and increase transit ridership.

goroo is an online map and trip planner tool that provides users with directions, travel itineraries, public transit schedules, maps, alternative routes, area attractions and travel alerts.  You can access the web app by logging on to on any web-enabled smart phone.

The web app includes the same great features that travelers in the region have been enjoying on the goroo desktop site, such as:

•    Trip directions using transit, driving, walking, biking, or any combination of these transportation options.  The directions include a weather forecast for the travel day, as well as cost savings and air quality benefits of choosing transit.
•    Real-time estimates of when a CTA train, CTA bus, or Metra train is arriving at a stop.  This capability involves the integrations with the CTA’s TrainTracker and BusTracker systems, and Metra’s Rail-Time Tracker system.
•    Scheduled information of when a Pace bus is arriving at a stop.  The RTA and Pace expect to provide real-time estimates in the very near future.
•    Full schedules for all CTA, Metra, and Pace routes in the region.
•    Real-time travel alerts on transit and highway conditions such as delays and incidents, construction detours, bus reroutes, and station elevator outages.
•    Information on major destinations and attractions in the region.

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