Friday, December 28, 2012
January 1 is approaching, and while many make plans to ring in the New Year, State Senator Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) says Senate lawmakers are preparing to return to Springfield on January 2.
The Illinois Senate is scheduled to convene on Jan. 2 and 3, though the possibility remains that additional session days will be scheduled. Senator Righter said that not only does the “lame duck” session mark the waning days of the 97th General Assembly, during this time many legislators will cast their final votes as an Illinois lawmaker.
Though a myriad of issues have been floated for possible consideration during the abbreviated January session, it seems increasingly likely legislative action on many of these topics will be pushed back until later in the spring session. However, Senator Righter noted the lame duck session is an ideal time to approve controversial legislation, primarily because retiring legislators, who no longer have to worry about an upcoming election, are often more willing to vote on sensitive issues.
Additionally, after January 1 lawmakers can pass legislation that take effect immediately with a simple majority vote; an anomaly in the state Constitution stipulates that after May 31 through December 31 legislation that does not receive a supermajority vote cannot become effective until the following June. Therefore, after the New Year, it is much easier for lawmakers to pass legislation that takes effect right away.
Here’s a look at some of the major topics that could be addressed early next month.
Pensions: State pension reform is widely accepted to be the most pressing concern currently facing Illinois. Illinois has the worst-funded pension system in the nation at 40 percent funded, with around $96 billion in unfunded liabilities.
For months Governor Quinn has targeted the January lame duck session as the time for passing major pension reform. But while the Governor has been outspoken about the need for a plan, Quinn has not presented a pension reform plan of his own.
Absent a specific proposal from the Governor and any serious negotiating sessions with legislative leaders, the hope for broad pension reforms during the narrow January window may be fading.
Gambling: Gov. Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several lawmakers remain in talks over a gaming expansion to advance gaming licenses for a Chicago casino and riverboat licenses in four other Illinois communities. While nothing substantial passed during veto session, the Senate Executive Committee advanced legislation to be used as a vehicle for a gaming package.
Much of the support for a gaming expansion stems from the boost in state revenues, creation of jobs and generating commerce in several Illinois communities. While the possibility of legislation advancing during the lame duck session remains, it is also likely that the issue will be delayed until spring, and taken up by the new General Assembly.
Gay Marriage: Supporters of legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in the state say they hope to bring it to a vote in the Illinois Senate during the first week of January. Proponents of the bill think this is a prime time to pass a gay marriage law given the legal rights granted to same-sex couples two years ago; however, they have also indicated that they do not intend to call the measure for a vote unless they have sufficient support for it to pass.
Marijuana: Illinois House member Lou Lang (D-Skokie) has been the driving force behind a bill to legalize medical marijuana. Claiming two years ago to only need “two or three” votes to pass the bill, he is still looking to pass such legislation. The issue seemed to gather some steam after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use in the November general election. However, the momentum may be fading and, like gaming, the issue could be pushed back to next spring.
Supplemental Spending: With the state at the midway point in its fiscal year, the Governor's office may seek adjustments in state spending authorization. The administration has floated the idea of adding funding for state road projects to reflect the availability of additional federal and state dollars. The Governor also wants to allocate additional funds to the state Department of Children and Family Services and there is talk of paying down some old bills using proceeds from the sale of the state prison in Thomson, Illinois, to the federal government.
Semi-Automatic Weapons/Right-to-Carry: Two major events converged in December the bring gun rights to the forefront. At the national level the tragic shooting of school children and teachers in Newtown, Conn., has sparked interest by Governor Quinn and others in limiting access to semi-automatic weapons. Another proposal being floated would restrict access to magazines that hold large numbers of bullets.
At the same time, a federal court ruling ordered Illinois to adopt legislation giving citizens the right to carry firearms in public. Illinois is the only state that does not have some form of right-to-carry law that allows citizens, with proper training and restrictions, to carry a concealed firearm for self-protection. Although much attention has been focused on this debate, there are sharp disagreements on both sides and it is likely the issue will be deferred until the spring session.
Governor's Budget Address: As has frequently been the case over the last several years, Governor Quinn is expected to ask the General Assembly to let him push back the date of his annual budget address. Although scheduled for February, the Governor is likely to ask that it be moved to March.