Senate Week in Review: November 5-9
Springfield, Ill. – Illinois voters headed to the polls on Nov. 6 and while most were focused on electing their candidates of choice State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said this election year voters weighed in on other important issues when they cast their ballot. Statewide Illinoisans rejected a proposed constitutional amendment on pensions, while in some counties concealed carry got a boost from local voters.
In other news, video gaming applications continue to pour into the Illinois Gaming Board, and one Senate Republican lawmaker is calling for an elimination of the state’s Sports Facilities Authority.
The move to end Illinois' status as the only state that makes it a crime for residents to conceal and carry legal firearms got a boost on Election Day when at least 10 Illinois counties overwhelmingly approved advisory referenda on the issue.
The advisory questions all passed with substantial margins, with the closest margin in Rock Island County, where the proposal was approved 57 percent to 43 percent. The strongest support was in Schuyler County, where the proposal received 81 percent of the votes cast.
In addition to Rock Island and Schuyler counties, other counties that carried the question included Henry, McDonough, Mercer, Warren, Adams, Bond, Stephenson and Randolph counties. Last spring, Pike County placed a similar question on its primary election ballots, where it passed with 85 percent of the vote.
The wording varied from county to county, with some simply asking if the General Assembly should adopt concealed carry, while others asked voters if the county ought to go ahead and adopt a local ordinance that would legalize conceal and carry within the county, regardless of what the state might say.
The movement to allow Illinois residents to legally carry a concealed firearm has been growing on a number of fronts. In addition to the advisory votes, the McLean County State's Attorney drew headlines in August when he announced he would no longer attempt to enforce violations of the state's ban on concealed carry.
Under concealed carry individuals would be able to apply for a license to carry a firearm or keep a firearm in their vehicle. The firearm could be concealed or could be visible. Applicants would have to undergo firearms training and licenses would be issued by the Illinois State Police.
Also on Election Day, Illinois voters shot down a proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution that would have made it more difficult for a public body, such as the state Legislature and local governments, to increase pension benefits. If approved, the amendment would have required a three-fifths majority vote to increase someone’s pension, instead of the current simple majority vote that is now required.
However, the proposal failed to meet the two criteria that would have secured its passage. To pass, the amendment could have received either an affirmative vote from 3/5 of those who voted on the proposal, or at least 50 percent of the total votes cast in the election. Almost 5 million Illinoisans voted in the election. With 99 percent of the precincts reported, the amendment had received about 58 percent of the “yes” vote—not the 60 percent needed for passage and less than 48 percent of total ballots voted in favor of the amendment.
Though the proposal (HJRCA 49) received almost unanimous support from state lawmakers looking to make it more difficult to increase retirement benefits in the face of Illinois’ pension funding crisis, it received backlash from unlikely bedfellows. Good government groups panned the amendment as weak reform, saying a more comprehensive overhaul of the state pension system is needed. Similarly, union representatives, employees and retirees spoke out against the proposal; however, they objected to the limitations that would be placed on employees’ future contracts and, possibly, current employees’ pensions.
Outside of election news, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) reports that a month after video gaming terminals became operational in Illinois, almost 500 licenses have been approved.
During its monthly meeting on Oct. 17 and 18, the Illinois Gaming Board approved 154 additional licenses, bringing the total number to 495 licensed establishments, fraternal and veterans’ organizations, and truck stops. These establishments and organizations are allowed to install up to five licensed video gaming terminals. According to the Gaming Board, out of the 495 licenses, only 500 machines are actually up and operating.
At this time, there are more than 3,300 applications for video gaming licenses pending, and an IGB representative said that they have seen a surge in applicant submissions since video gaming commenced on Oct. 9. All applications will be processed and investigated in the order they were received.
However, some communities aren’t willing to gamble on video gaming. The Gaming Board knows of between 340-350 communities out of 1400 that have a gambling prohibition ordinance at this time. Communities are not required to inform the IGB if they have passed a video gaming ban, which is why an exact number is difficult to determine.
Finally, a top Illinois Senate Republican budget negotiator says it's time to eliminate the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA).
State Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said Governor Quinn's maneuvering to install a former spokeswoman to lead the Sports Authority is just the most recent example of why it is time to eliminate the agency. Murphy noted that the Authority has no responsibilities for the day-to-day operation of either Cellular Field or Soldier Field, but is in fact a conduit for the public financing of the facilities.
Murphy noted that many existing entities could perform those duties without requiring a $176,000 director to oversee five employees. He also emphasized that the executive director position has been vacant for well over a year and it hasn't had any effect at all on either Cellular Field or Soldier Field.
Murphy said Governor Quinn's last minute firing of a board member, so that the Governor would get to install his former spokeswoman as head of the Authority is just one reason why the agency should be eliminated. For years the ISFA has been prone to abuse, as board members use their positions to score tickets and perks.
The Senator stressed that at a time when Illinois must make difficult decisions about healthcare for the poor and retirement funding for teachers and other public employees, it is simply wrong to retain a superfluous entity like the Sports Facilities Authority.