Thursday, June 25, 2009

Budget not the only thing in limbo

By Hilary Russell
Just as the state’s operating budget is in limbo with five days left in the fiscal year, many substantive bills were left in the lurch at the end of the regularly scheduled spring session. The following is a list of measures that Illinois Issues magazine covered in our monthly “legislative checklist” throughout the spring. See the full list in the July/August print edition. In the meantime, here is a list of bills that stalled but that could come up in this fall’s or next spring’s legislative sessions:

HJRCA 31 The constitutional amendment sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, a Morengo Democrat, would give voters the option to remove a sitting governor from office. The resolution would require voters to decide whether they wanted to change the state’s Constitution to include a so-called “recall” provision. The bill passed the House, but it didn’t get called for a final vote in the Senate. Senate President John Cullerton recently said he would not call the measure for a vote until Gov. Pat Quinn signed another ethics reform measure, HB 7, which would cap the amount individuals, businesses and political organizations could contribute to candidates. Franks’ recall measure doesn’t have to be approved until May 2010, and he said he expects that it would pass without problems before then.

HB 2643, SB 1292 Newly hired state employees and teachers would receive less generous pension benefits than current employees. Quinn proposed the so-called two-tiered pension plan as a way to save the state money in the next fiscal year and to reduce the mounting pension liabilities in the long run. But public employee union members strongly oppose the idea and argue it ultimately won’t save the money projected by the governor’s office. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, an Orland Park Democrat, and Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, stalled in both chambers.

SB 1381 A bill allowing the limited use of medical marijuana, sponsored by Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat, narrowly passed in the Senate, marking the first time in Illinois’ legislative history that such a proposal won approval. The clock ran out before House sponsor Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, presented it to the full chamber. Lang said he didn’t have enough votes to pass it and that he plans to lobby for the bill and could call it in the future.

SB 744, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link, proposed opening new casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford and Waukegan, as well as adding gaming positions at existing riverboats and allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks. According to Link, a Waukegan Democrat, the gaming package could generate as much as $1 billion a year. While the Senate approved the measure, the House sponsor, Lang, said he chose not to call the bill and would like to make changes so the bill would not specify where the gaming facilities would have to be built.

HB 2234 would recognize civil unions and give same-sex partners some of the same legal rights, including power-of-attorney, as married couples. Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored the legislation. It narrowly passed out of committee but wasn’t called on the floor because, Harris said, he didn’t have enough votes to ensure passage. He added that new legislation in Iowa that now legitimizes same-sex marriage could help pave the way for passage of Illinois’ bill in the future; however, Harris’ civil unions measure would not be the same as same-sex marriage.

HB 397 redefines stalking. The measure amends the 1961 criminal code by defining stalking as a behavior intended to terrorize or endanger another person through intimidation or threats. Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican, sponsored the measure. The bill stalled in the House. Brady said the measure is undergoing further negotiations between the state’s attorney’s office and the attorney general’s office. He expects to present it again during the 2010 spring session.

HB 2633, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston, called for stricter rules to define how and when inmates in minimum- and maximum-security prisons were transferred to Tamms Correctional Center in Alexander County. Questions about the treatment and living conditions of the prisoners prompted Hamos to write the bill, which she said is on hold because a new director recently took over the center. She said she wants to wait to see what kind of changes will come about as a result.

HB 288 proposes that public schools could give students a few moments before class begins to observe a moment of reflection. The bill is sponsored by Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat, and Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat. The moment of reflection would be determined on a school-by-school basis. Fritchey’s definition of a moment of reflection would replace the existing Student Reflection and Student Prayer Act, which requires every school to have a moment of silence during which students could either reflect on the day ahead or pray. Because the law lacked consequences for not observing the moment of silence, some schools observed it while others did not.

Controversy has surrounded the moment of silence issue because federal court deemed it unconstitutional to require public school students to pray during school hours.

The law invited a lawsuit. Fritchey, who voted against the original moment of silence bill, proposed the new version that would remove the “student prayer act” from the name and allow teachers to choose whether to honor the moment.

Haine said the role of the government is to encourage freedom of expression, not force it on individuals who may hold different beliefs, but he said he didn’t know if he could get enough votes for the bill to pass next session.

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