Senate Week in Review: July 8-12
Lawmakers returned to Springfield during the week in order to meet a court deadline for Illinois to adopt legislation granting Illinois citizens the right to carry a concealed firearm in public, Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.
Although legislation making Illinois the last state in the nation to grant citizens the right to carry concealed firearms was approved at the end of May, Gov. Pat Quinn extensively rewrote the measure in early July. Quinn's actions forced lawmakers to return to Springfield to address his changes, Sen. Rezin explained, because a federal court had ordered Illinois to act by July 9.
As anticipated, both the Senate and House overrode the Governor's changes to House Bill 183 thus putting the law into immediate effect.
While lawmakers said some of the Governor's ideas could have merit, he was criticized for waiting until after the legislation had been negotiated and approved before weighing in. They also pointed out that by lumping all of his changes together in an amendatory veto, the Governor forced the legislature to take an "all or nothing" approach to his recommendations, since they could not be separated out and voted on independently.
No Permits until 2014?
Although Illinois now has a right-to-carry law on the books, it could take until next year before permits begin being issued. The Illinois State Police will oversee applications and say they will need time to gear up for the process. They have estimated it could take six months to set up the system and then could take another three months to process and screen applicants.
When it goes into effect, Illinois will require one of the most rigorous training programs in the nation for concealed carry, with permit holders required to complete 16 hours of training and pay a $150 permit fee.
The override on right-to-carry was a major defeat for Gov. Pat Quinn, a staunch opponent of guns, who had spent much of the previous week orchestrating media events in Chicago in an effort to build support for his changes.
Governor Pivots to Pension Reform
In the wake of that defeat, the Governor pivoted to pension reform the next day – by removing legislators' salaries from the state budget. The Governor said he was cutting lawmakers pay until a pension solution was enacted. He also claimed he would not accept any pay until the reforms were adopted, but did not cut his salary from the budget.
While many lawmakers share the Governor's frustration with the lack of progress on pension reform, there was a feeling that the Governor's action was more of a publicity stunt than a genuine attempt to move forward on pension reform.
Sen. Rezin said she hopes Gov. Quinn’s action to suspend legislator’s pay will spur action on much-needed pension reform.
“I hope that the Governor’s action will get results,” Sen. Rezin said. “I share his frustration and I am fine with the idea that we shouldn’t be paid until we’ve done the job and this problem is resolved. I have talked consistently over the last three years about the need to reform our pension systems in order to protect its solvency.
"It is long past time to bring everyone to the table, including the Governor, so we can ensure the stability of these systems not only for current retirees, but for the future retirees as well. Governor Quinn has done what he has done and while I can support his action, he needs to do more. Pension reform hasn't happened because the Governor and his two legislative leaders have been unable to agree on an approach."
Sen. Rezin said that Illinois is in this situation due to the one-party control in the state for the last decade.
“We’re in this position because the one-party control has grossly mismanaged the state’s finances over the last ten years,” she said. “They have consistently decided to take the money that was supposed to be for the pension systems and spent it elsewhere. Perhaps if somehow nothing else has provided a wake up call, the Governor’s action will.”
A majority of legislators have voted for pension reform bills and different measures have passed both the House and Senate, but the Governor has been unable to get his two legislative leaders to agree on an approach. Additionally, it was the Governor who requested that a Conference Committee be formed to try to hash out an agreement. Finally, the Governor has come in for sharp criticism for failing to appear before that Conference Committee to clarify what he wants to see in a pension reform bill.
Pension Reform Committee Met
The Conference Committee on pension reform met at the beginning of the week in Springfield, partly in hopes of getting a clear picture from the Governor on his ideas for reform.
However, the Governor declined to appear and instead sent his budget director, who stuck to a prepared script and frustrated lawmakers by providing few specifics on what the Governor supports.
The Conference Committee has asked financial experts to review various options to determine what the potential savings might be. Because of the complex nature of the calculations, it was expected that the committee would not see projections for a week or more.
The Governor's action on legislative salaries may ultimately prove to be ineffective, as it may conflict with the state Constitution's ban on reducing an elected official's pay during the official's term of office – a separation of powers provision that was inserted in the Constitution to prevent one branch of government from altering the pay of another branch in political retaliation.
Parental Notification Law Upheld
Near the end of the week, the Illinois Supreme Court finally brought to conclusion a dispute over the state's parental notification law affecting abortions for minors. The state Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional on July 11; nearly two decades after the General Assembly passed the law requiring abortion clinics to notify a parent when an underage girl seeks an abortion
The act requires a parent or guardian to be notified 48 hours before a child under 18 has an abortion. Although the law was signed in 1995, it has been held up in court ever since. The law does not require a parent's permission, but only notification and allows for judicial bypass in cases where notification would not be appropriate.
GOP Report Prompts School Funding Examination
Senators took another step toward identifying school funding disparities by creating a bi-partisan Advisory Committee on Education Funding (Senate Resolution 431). Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (Lemont) appointed Sen. Rezin to the Advisory Committee per the resolution.
The Committee grew out of a Senate Republican study of education funding that revealed funding inequities that benefit the Chicago Public Schools at the expense of downstate and suburban schools.
Sen. Rezin has worked hard to advocate for education funding equity by raising awareness and promoting sensible solutions. She looks forward to continuing that work and collaborating with her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to implement policies that will eliminate the disparities in Illinois education funding.