Preview: Fall Veto Session
For the first time since a brief special session in July,legislators will begin making their way en masse to Springfield this week, for the fall veto session. The agenda before them is relatively light. The General Assembly will likely debate some budget matters. And there's a hearing on a new type of health care coverage for retired state employees. Amanda Vinicky previews what else is ahead.
It's called veto session: by definition, it's when the General Assembly has its chance to either reject or accept the governor's vetoes. But there will be almost none of that. Really, there's only bill -- Gov. Pat Quinn nixed allowing museums to have fewer days where Illinois residents can visit free of charge. The legislator who sponsored it has filed to override the veto, as he says museums, that don't get money from the state, need the admission money.
Beyond that, though, expect legislators to spend most of the veto session revisiting issues from the past.
Like same-sex marriage.
On May 31 - the last day of the spring session - supporters filled the gallery overlooking the House chambers, anticipating a vote to legalize same sex marriage in Illinois.
Instead the sponsor, Chicago Democrat Greg Harris, announced in a tearful speech that he wasn't going to call the bill for a vote. Some of those supporters in the gallery booed him.
"This is for me one of the hardest nights of my life, to know the thousands of people who are watching and hoping that tomorrow, they would be full citizens of this state, and to know that their legislature has decided well, maybe we should just wait a little bit longer before we grant full equality," he said afterward.
Harris said at the request of some of his fellow representative, he was going to give them the summer to check in with their constituents, and then he would call a vote during the fall, during veto session. But it's unclear if that's actually going to happen, or if Harris will yet again wait. Leaders of a well-funded, organized campaign won't say if they've drummed up enough votes.
A massive gay marriage rally is scheduled for the first day of the veto session; opponents are planning a protest of their own the following day.
Another controversial issue outstanding from spring that may -- or may not -- come before the General Assembly: gambling. A proposal that would allow slots in horse race tracks and create five new casinos -- in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Lake County, and the south suburbs -- had appeared to be gaining steam then, but was also never called for a vote in the House. The sponsor of that measure, Rep. Bob Rita of Blue Island, says since then conversation about casinos has dwindled. Rita says it's time to get talks going again.
"What I'd like to do is bring it back, the attention back, on this very important issue and make sure that we ... we need to look at what's beneficial to the state, to the locals, in a bill that ultimately could pass both chambers and get the governor to sign," he says.
At this point, though, only a hearing is scheduled, with no vote on the calendar.
A better bet is that the General Assembly will take up legislation regulating guns. Illinois' in the process of implementing concealed carry. Early next year, Illinois residents who've been granted a permit will for the first time be able to carry a gun in public.
To firearm advocates' displeasure, legislators are looking add restrictions, like banning guns anywhere alcohol is served. Other proposals that could come up would enhance penalties.
One that's gotten a lot of attention - it's backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel - would institute a mandatory minimum prison sentence if someone's caught carrying a gun illegally.
Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside, says it helped to reduce crime in New York City. He says Illinois law is too weak now, and stiffer penalties could deter gang violence.
"We're not talking about low-level drug dealers here, we're talking about violent gun offenders here, some of which have committed some serious offenses that have made law enforcement's life more difficult," he says.
National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde says the proposal could too easily ensnare someone who isn't a violent criminal, but who maybe missed a deadline for getting a gun permit.
"If you make one little slip-up, you could be potentially facing three years in prison," he says.
A prison watchdog group, the John Howard Association, is concerned it'll lead to more overcrowding in the state's already jammed prisons, with a hefty price tag to boot.
Already, the General Assembly could vote on a measure that would, in a sense, cost the state some $20 million, plus. That's how much Archer Daniels Midland wants in tax breaks if it's to stay based in Illinois. The food-processing giant announced last month that it will keep most of its employees in Decatur, but it's looking to move its corporate headquarters to a city where it's easier for executives to catch an international flight. Chicago's in the running - but according to reports, so is Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta.
Illinois lawmakers are making a genuine effort to accommodate the Fortune 500 company, but there's plenty of resistance too, including from Democratic Sen. Andy Manar, whose district covers Decatur.
"It is important that ADM stays in Illinois," he says. "And it is important that we make every effort to grow jobs in this state. But we can't do that in one community at the expense of another, and I think that that has to be part of the discussion as well."
And then there's Gov. Quinn, who says he won't even discuss the matter now.
"I think we need to have a moratorium on any special legislation for tax breaks for corporations; we have to focus on pension reform," the governor says.
There it is: last, but not certainly not least on the veto session agenda -- what to do about Illinois' pensions. It's issue hanging over all others.
Legislators remain divided over what to do about Illinois' retirement systems, which are underfunded by $100 billion. A special, ten-member legislative committee has negotiated all summer, and has the outline of a plan set - but Republicans say it doesn't save enough money, while at least others - including one Democrat on the panel - say the benefit cuts are too harsh for state employees. It's possible a new plan, outside of the committee, could arise.
Anticipation that legislators will use their time back in Springfield to somehow get past that divide is high; but with an election coming up in March, predictions are just as heavy that it won't happen, and that controversial issues that were outstanding in May will remain that way once veto session adjourns, and lawmakers get back to campaigning.