The General Assembly concluded its annual fall veto session with no resolution to the state’s public pension challenges. Ongoing discussions offered some hope that the legislative leaders may be able to arrive at an agreed-upon proposal that can be put before legislators; however, the question of when that might occur remains unanswered.
Other key issues, such as economic incentives to retain major employers and proposed new penalties for gun crimes, also were not resolved, but progress on those issues seemed possible as well at the end of the fall session.
Legislation authorizing same-sex marriages did win approval, making Illinois the 15th state to allow persons of the same sex to marry.
The measure was pushed through the House of Representatives and the Senate Nov. 5. Senate Bill 10 was originally passed by the Senate on Valentine’s Day, but initially failed to garner enough support to be called to a vote in the House.
Despite language aimed at exempting religious institutions and private clubs from having to perform or host same-sex marriage ceremonies, receptions or related events, many religious leaders argued the bill did not adequately safeguard the rights of religious institutions. They raised concerns that churches might still be forced to allow the use of reception halls and similar facilities to same-sex couples, in violation of their religious tenets. Concerns were also voiced on whether private vendors who object to same-sex marriage would be forced to provide services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Funds for Concealed Carry
One accomplishment was approval of a supplemental spending measure needed in order to assure the timely implementation of the state’s new concealed carry act. House Bill 209 added $50.2 million to the current year state budget; however, almost all of those dollars would come from special dedicated funds and user fees, rather than general tax dollars.
The largest component was $34 million to implement the state’s concealed carry law, which would be paid by concealed carry license fees. Most of the money would go to the Illinois State Police, while about $2.5 million would be used by the state’s Human Services agency to comply with the mental health reporting requirements of the new law. The only portion of the spending bill that used general tax dollars was $500,000 to pay Court of Claims awards owed by the state.
Gun Crime Penalties
Despite a push by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a proposal to require mandatory prison terms for certain gun crimes never came to a vote. The Senate’s Executive Committee was poised to take testimony on the concept when word came that the House had adjourned for the week without taking up the measure.
Several anticipated business relocations have sent companies to the Legislature to ask for state incentives. Among the more visible is the planned move of the headquarters of farm product processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) from Decatur. The company has expressed an interest in keeping the headquarters in Illinois, with Chicago the most likely location.
In addition, the merger of Naperville-based Office Max and Florida-based Office Depot has prompted the combined company to assess where its corporate headquarters should be located. Legislation that would allow the merged firm to qualify for a state tax credit advanced out of committee, but was not voted on by the full Senate.
Road Projects – Illiana Expressway and Weber Road
Measures designed to encourage two major road construction projects south of Chicago did win approval.
Senate Bill 2365 is intended to clear the way for a design-build proposal for the Illiana Expressway, which would link Interstates 55 and 576 in Illinois with Interstate 65 in Indiana. The highway connecting Will County, Illinois, with Lake County, Indiana, has been discussed by transportation planners for years.
The legislation would allow the public-private partnership contractors to partner with a design-build contractor prior to signing a contract with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
IDOT argued that because the design-build contractor is one of the elements upon which the department will evaluate the private partner’s bid proposal, it would be illogical to prohibit the private partner from selecting a design-builder prior to the bidding process.
The other measure, Senate Bill 1219, allows the state to begin the Weber Road interchange project on Interstate 55 in Will County, without the sale of land that was anticipated when the project was authorized in 2007.
The original legislation called for the sale of surplus property owned by the Department of Corrections to help finance the project. However, the assessed value of the land has dropped significantly and IDOT does not want to be forced to sell the land under current market conditions.
Variety of Measures Approved
A number of other measures, many dealing with local or regional issues, finished out the annual fall session.