SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday, hoping to achieve what they failed to get done the last time they were in town.
After failing to resolve problems with the state’s multibillion-dollar pension mess during a special session in August, the House and Senate have scheduled almost two weeks of session days between now and Jan. 9, which is the day before a new Legislature is sworn into office.
But along with finding a hard-sought compromise over how to reduce the state’s annual payments for employee retirement programs, a number of other issues are expected to surface now that the dust has
settled from the 2012 election.
Lawmakers could take action on restoring money to keep prisons open in Tamms and Dwight, as well as tackle a massive gambling expansion. They also could be asked to vote on issues ranging from gay marriage to immigrant driver’s licenses.
It remains unclear how quickly things will get rolling, with some lawmakers believing the sessions could be devoid of much action.
“I think we’ll see more action in the lame duck session in January,” Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said.
Here’s a look at some of the hot issues expected to be debated in the coming weeks:
Gov. Pat Quinn, who unveiled last week an Internet-based lobbying effort designed to drum up public support for a pension overhaul, thinks closed-door talks on pension reform will begin during the veto session and continue through December.
Actual votes, however, might not happen until the House and Senate return in early January for what is known as the lame duck session, when lawmakers who are leaving the Legislature can vote on issues without having to fear any backlash from voters in the next election.
Critics of Quinn’s push, however, said his effort to generate grassroots support via the website falls short because it doesn’t offer solutions, which could include a higher retirement age, more costs for employees, a reduction in cost-of-living adjustments and a controversial proposal to force school districts to share a bigger portion of the cost of pensions.
Members of the House and Senate are hopeful a resolution can be hammered out.
“I would like to see if we can get something done with pension reform. Something has to happen with that,” Verschoore said. “But it can only come if all parties are at the negotiating table.”
Quinn vetoed Senate Bill 1849 in August. The billwould have created five new casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Lake County and Chicago’s south suburbs. It also would allow slot machines at horse racing tracks, likely bring back live racing at Quad-City Downs in East Moline.
Lawmakers could override the governor or begin work on an entirely new bill aimed at appeasing Quinn’s call for additional provisions, such as a ban on campaign contributions from gaming licensees and casino managers.
Quinn also wants guarantees that revenue from new casinos will provide more money for schools.
Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, is expected to lead the charge to restore funding in the budget for the Tamms Correctional Center, the all-female prison in Dwight and five other prison facilities that Quinn is trying to close.
The closures, which are tied up in a court battle between the governor and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, could go forward nonetheless if Quinn decides to ignore the General Assembly and simply not fund the prisons.
Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, said there are numerous problems with the budget that must be addressed, including the prison issue and money for retiree health care costs.
“We have a budget that in no way reflects what our operating costs are,” said Barickman, whose district includes the Dwight prison.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, also might press forward with his proposal to allow the Legislature to weigh in on state labor negotiations. Under legislation expected to be debated Tuesday in a House committee, the General Assembly could place limits on how much a governor can hand out in raises to unionized state workers.
Also on tap could be a heated debate over whether to borrow money to pay down the state’s unpaid bills.
Quinn also used his veto powers to amend a Republican-backed bill regulating mail-order ammunition to ban assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition clips.
Lawmakers have the option of accepting the changes, overriding them or just allowing the proposal on mail-order ammunition to die.
Given the Legislature’s divisions over gun-control issues, it is expected that Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, will not call the measure for a vote.
After voters in four states either backed gay marriage or opposed banning it, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, an openly gay lawmaker, is hoping the issue can get a vote under the Capitol dome.
If a proposal is not floated during the veto session or during the lame duck session in early January, a measure could come up for a vote later this spring when Democrats will control super-majorities in both chambers.
Quinn has expressed support for legalizing gay marriage in Illinois.