Monday, May 28, 2007

Gov: It's your turn, House Democrats

Is a state budget possible by May 31? That’s still a mystery, but the ball may be in the House Speaker Michael Madigan’s court. His Democratic caucus spent nearly three hours meeting with Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday evening, but members don’t feel any closer to an agreement than they did last week.

“I’m not as optimistic walking out of caucus as I was walking into caucus,” said Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat. “There’s a large difference between where the governor would like to see this be and where we believe is realistic for us to get. It’s not to say that either one of those positions is wrong, but they are not close to each other.”

Specifically, the governor isn’t budging from his proposal to expand state-subsidized health insurance for adults, but House Democrats are skeptical that the state can or should cover a new demographic when it’s unknown whether lawmakers could approve a revenue source that would support the life of the program. Some members also said the state could take on a smaller health-care expansion by filling in some gaps of Blagojevich’s first-term All Kids program.

“There’s a willingness to do some things in health care, and we may be just a little bit off in terms of that, but I think most the members think the spending is probably too high,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Marlow Colvin of the governor’s Illinois Covered plan. “[The governor] did challenge the Democrats in the House to put a plan on the table that we could support. I will say that’s something we have not yet done, and I guess we have to as House Democrats think about a funding solution that we can all support.”

Discussed as revenue ideas were the closing of “corporate loopholes” (a.k.a. getting rid of some tax breaks) and adding an alternative minimum tax on businesses, which could generate up to $2.4 billion, according to Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat who met with other members of the Latino and Black caucuses in the governor’s office earlier Monday. They talked about ways to raise money for school construction and to increase the minimum amount spent per student.

As we said last week, the governor still opposes an income and sales tax increase that gained early support from the Black and Latino caucus members, but Blagojevich said again Monday night that he supports Senate President Emil Jones’ gaming proposal to add four new casinos in the Chicago area. But neither House Republicans nor some Democrats want four new casinos.

The one thing Blagojevich and House Democrats agree on is that they still want to approve a state budget before May 31 so they don't empower Republicans, who advocate for a no-growth budget. But logistically, a state budget would be hard to craft and approve in three days.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think it looks very good for the adjournment date this Thursday,” Colvin said. “Unless he’s playing a great game of chicken, but right now, it looks unlikely.”

Side note Electricity rates were not discussed.

Legislative roundup
As we start the last week of regular spring session, here’s a legislative roundup of recent floor action.

Teen driving safety
New driving curfews would be set at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends if the governor signs a measure on his desk that was called for by Secretary of State Jesse White. Exemptions would be made for emergency situations and for school or job activities. Teens also would be required to carry a driver’s permit for nine months instead of six months and be restricted to one unrelated passenger in the car. Those caught street racing would be in danger of losing their licenses and their cars. If approved by the governor, the new rules will go into effect next July.

Under a separate measure approved by both chambers, teens younger than 19 wouldn’t be allowed to drive and talk on a cell phone at the same time other than in cases of emergencies. The measure now moves to the governor’s desk.

Horsemeat ban
The governor signed a measure banning slaughter of horses for human consumption in the state. Selling horsemeat for food is illegal in the United States; however, it was shipped and sold overseas for dining. The nation’s last slaughtering plant, which is in DeKalb, will have to close its doors or switch to another farm animal. But lawmakers were considering exceptions to the law as late as the end of May. One measure would allow the slaughtering of horses to make animal feed.

Breast exams
Doctors would have to conduct regular breast exams, and insurance companies would have to pay for them under a measure approved by both chambers. If the governor signs, women between 20 and 39 would receive the required exam every three years. Women older than 40 would receive an exam every year. The exam would have to last six to 10 minutes.

Mortgage fraud
Victims of mortgage fraud and identity theft would have more time to file a complaint against people they accuse of scamming them out of home equity and using their identities. Both chambers approved an earlier version of the measure; however, it’s since changed to make the legislation immediately effective, and scam artists would be on the hook for seven years instead of three. The House must approve the measure before it goes to the governor.

Criminal code
The state’s criminal code would shrink by one-third under a measure approved by the Senate. For the first time in 40 years, redundant and unconstitutional language would be eliminated from the code. If approved by the House and signed by the governor, supporters say the measure would ease the backlog of cases in the state’s judicial system.

Dining with dogs
Dog owners would be able to take their furry friends to outdoor seating areas at restaurants if the governor signs a measure approved by both chambers.

Ban on some ammunition clips
A proposed ban on ammunition clips that shoot off more than 10 rounds won approval by a House committee. Supporters say the ban would ease the emotional and social costs of losing innocent victims of gun violence, while opponents say it would worsen economic loses when gun manufacturers move to other states. The emotional issue has continued to come up in Illinois since a 1994 federal ban on assault weapons and the high-capacity magazine clips expired. Such opponents as the National Rifle Association and downstate lawmakers trying to protect sport say the legislation is too broad and would ban some firearms without stopping plotted crimes like those at Virginia Tech this spring.

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