Hot Button Issues May Pop Up at Veto Session

Nov 26, 2012

It's called veto session because it's when the General Assembly's supposed to consider legislation the governor rejected or changed.  Theoretically, at least.  Legislators WILL deal with measures nixed by Governor Pat Quinn - including statewide regulation of plastic bags, and a plan to let cancer treatment centers reject job applicants who smoke.

Credit State of Illinois

But with the shackles of campaigning just removed, especially for legislators who won't be back next session, it's a ripe time for votes on a range of contentious policies.

"It's going to be a very rough session."

Anti-gambling activist Anita Bedell.

"Because there are so many lame ducks who don't have anything to lose by voting on gambling."

Bedell spent the week of Thanksgiving asking gambling opponents to call their legislators.

She predicts they might try to override Quinn's veto of a plan that would give casinos to Chicago and four other towns, including Danville and Rockford.

On the other hand, Quinn might be backing off his stance that he wouldn’t tolerate slot machines at horse race tracks.  So rather than try to go around him, legislators may instead work with him, to pass a whole new bill.

Either way, Bedell's says she's seen it before: the end of session is when lawmakers try to ram through controversial proposals.

"These are legislators who either lost the election, they're retiring, they're leaving office.  So there'll be no repercussions from voters if they vote for or against gambling."

 What has Bedell on edge has Dan Lin excited.  He heads Illinois NORML -- the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws -- a group that has tried for roughly a dozen years to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. It's come close ... but no cigar.  Now:

"We're as optimistic as we've ever been."

 It's cautious optimism ...

"Unfortunately, you know, we've been confident and optimistic before and there's no guarantee in politics that this will even get brought up in the veto session."

Lin says this year's different because the measure's scaled back to a three-year pilot program, and because the conversation nationally is changing; Colorado voters just legalized pot for recreational use.

Likewise, the election saw four states support same-sex marriage.  Emboldened by that evidence of a shift in public opinion, advocates are making a push to approve gay marriage in Illinois.

Democratic Representative Greg Harris of Chicago, who sponsored Illinois' civil unions law, acknowledges momentum.   But he's not rushing down the aisle of the House.

"I take this seriously.  When I call it for a vote I want to be sure it passes.  This is not something I would call frivolously."

Harris says there are so many other pressing issues on the agenda ... he doesn't know if there's enough time to get it done.

One that appears to be on the fast track: drivers' licenses for immigrants who are here illegally.

And with President Barack Obama still in the White House it looks like his signature health care act is here to stay. Legislators in his home state are getting ready to implement it. 

That's sure to be controversial too, pitting insurance companies and business groups against advocates like Jim Duffett of the Illinois Campaign for Better Health Care, who says with the election over ...

"There's no longer any excuses for politicians on both sides of the aisle to not move forward and implement Obamacare."  

None of these get to the heart of arguably the biggest issues in Illinois -- pensions, and the budget overall. There's talk of veto session votes to put more money into education, to refinance the state's debt ... or even to extend the temporary income tax hike.

It's a blockbuster agenda. But like reporters, legislators have a habit of procrastinating until deadline. If measures aren't taken up this week, there's also a second week of veto session in early December.

Fiscal Cliff Could Impact Illinois

If the country goes off the so-called "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year, it could have a drastic effect on Illinois. Most of the attention on the "fiscal cliff" has been focused on the federal government. But a sudden increase in federal tax rates combined with federal spending cuts would likely have a significant effect on Illinois state government.

Natalie Davila is research director at the Illinois Department of Revenue. She says there could be a significant drop in economic growth, retail sales, and workers' wages.

"Under a non-fiscal cliff scenario, we have wages and salaries growing at 3.3 percent in fiscal year 2014. Under a pessimistic fiscal cliff scenario, that number falls to 1.1 percent."

On top of that, Davila says 90,000 people stand to lose unemployment benefits at the end of the year, which would mean a loss of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky and Brian Mackey contributed to this report