Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Veto session roundup, Day 2

By Jamey Dunn

Gun sentencing
The sponsor of legislation to strengthen penalties for gun crimes has made another tweak to his bill in hopes of finding the support to pass it in the Illinois House tomorrow.

Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat, removed a requirement from his bill that first time offenders convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon serve 85 percent of the mandatory one-year sentence that is already on the books for that crime. Knowingly carrying a loaded gun in public without a Firearm Owners Identification Card can result in an aggravated unlawful use of a weapons charge. In a previous version of the bill that was before the committee Tuesday, the 85 percent sentence would have applied.

But after facing opposition from the National Rifle Association and reservations from many House members, Zalewski removed that requirement. Now the legislation focuses on felons and gang members who are caught illegally carrying a gun. The narrowed version of the plan would require those offenders to receive a four-year sentence if convicted. They would be required to spend 85 percent of that sentence behind bars. The measure also bans judges from putting those convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon into certain rehabilitation programs, such as boot camp, that can significantly reduce sentences. “We’re going to get a bill that goes after violent criminals with guns, and that’s what we wanted.” The change brought the NRA on board. “We don’t represent felons and gang bangers,” said Todd Vandermyde, an NRA lobbyist. He said he is telling House members that his organization is OK with the bill’s approval. Vandermyde has displayed his ability to kill a bill several times, so Zalewski said that NRA support should help him get the measure passed.

However, many members of the House committee that approved the bill said they still had concerns, particularly claims from Illinois Department of Corrections officials that the system could not afford the population growth that would result from the bill. “We have a system that is stressed and have very, very limited resources to manage the existing population that we have within our custody,” said Bryan Gleckler, chief of staff for IDoC. “There’s no capacity to take this additional population on.” He said that removing the provision pertaining to first-time offenders would not reduce the projected growth enough for IDoC to be able to handle it. Zalewski said he plans to call Senate Bill 1342 for a floor vote in the House tomorrow.

Tax breaks
A Senate committee approved proposed tax breaks for two companies that are considering relocating their corporate headquarters. Office Max and Office Depot’s merger became official this week. Now the company is in the processes of deciding whether its headquarters will be in Naperville, where Office Max was based, or Boca Raton, Fla., where Office Depot was based. Ravi Saligram, the former chief executive of Office Max, is interim head of Office Depot Inc., along with former Office Depot CEO Neil Austrian. The new company is searching for a permanent CEO.

Saligram said that if Office Depot chooses Illinois for its new headquarters, 1,050 jobs would stay in the state, and the company would bring 200 additional positions. He came to Illinois seeking a tax incentive. HB 3271 would give Office Depot a break of up to $53 million. Saligram said his counterpart is also asking for incentives from Florida, but he could not give details on what kind of deal that state may be offering. However, he did say the company is not considering any other prospect “It is either going to be in Boca, or it’s going to be in Naperville,” he told the committee. He said the company is considering several factors, including economic conditions, costs of doing business and infrastructure. He said the final decision would be made by whoever is picked to be the new CEO. “While I’m not the decision maker, I am the best emissary you have at this time, and unfortunately, the process is what is,” he told the committee.

 The panel also approved a tax break of up to $1.5 million annually for Archers Daniels Midland Co. The Decatur-based business announced in October that it would move its headquarters out of the central Illinois city. The move would take about 100 jobs out of Decatur, but ADM officials say the bulk of the jobs located there would stay. The company is seeking a tax break to move its headquarters to Chicago. However, Greg Webb, ADM’s director of government relations, told committee members that ADM is looking elsewhere. “The Illinois process is the most visible because of us seeking the legislation. Other locations that we are considering aren’t that visible.” He said ADM did have a “preference” for Illinois but said he could not guarantee that the tax breaks would keep ADM in the state. “If the legislature passed the bill ... then I think that would be a pretty significant pathway.” Under HB 2536, the company would be required to relocate 100 out-of-state jobs to Decatur and add or fill 100 positions there annually over the next five years.

Same-sex marriage speed up
Gay and lesbian couples celebrated yesterday after the Illinois legislature approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. However, the new law would require couples looking to wed to wait until the summer of 2014. An immediate effective date would have required 10 more votes than the measure received in the House.

But an amendment that Oak Park Democratic Sen. Don Harmon filed today to House Bill 2747 might speed up that timeline. The measure could not be taken up until after January 1, when the vote threshold for an immediate effective date drops back to the standard majority. The proposed amendment would allow the same-sex marriage law to go into effect anytime after HB 2747 was passed and signed into law.

“Whether that’s Valentine’s Day of next year or some other date, we could make sure folks have access to equality earlier than they would.” Harmon said he does not yet know if there is interest among his colleagues to take another vote on same-sex marriage, especially at a date even closer to the spring primary elections. “I don’t know if there’s an appetite to do so, but it seems silly at this point to be delaying people’s marriage plans based on our legislative calendar.”

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