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Final days of session set stage for next month

Published: Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 3)

CHICAGO (AP) – Lawmakers returning to the state Capitol this week will address a proposal to let illegal immigrants obtain driver’s licenses and may tackle medical marijuana, state facility closures and tax disclosure for Illinois corporations.

On most major issues, however, they will be laying the groundwork for the first week of January, and what’s shaping up to be another blockbuster lame-duck session. That’s when lawmakers in their last days in office could get the chance to vote on deals to expand gambling and fix the state’s pension crisis, if not also addressing the right of same-sex couples to marry. They also could take final votes on the issues they tackle this week.

The six-day fall session, scheduled to wrap up Thursday, is held for lawmakers to decide whether to override gubernatorial vetoes. This year the General Assembly had fewer vetoes to deal with than in previous years. In 2011, Quinn vetoed all or part of more than two dozen bills; this year he used his pen on just 10 bills.

One issue likely to come to a head this week is $57 million that lawmakers budgeted for two prisons and two juvenile detention centers. The governor instead planned to close several of those facilities, some of which he said were half-empty, and direct the money to the Department of Children and Family Services for child protection, and to other agencies for job training and free transit rides for needy seniors.

But the Senate voted last week to override the governor’s decision, saying the facilities are needed to save jobs, particularly in areas that have been hardest hit economically. The measure now goes to the House, where an override vote could occur this week.

Quinn said Sunday that he expected his veto to be sustained.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the speaker had not yet decided whether to attempt an override. If one were successful there, Quinn wouldn’t be forced to the keep the facilities open, but he couldn’t use the money elsewhere.

Assistant Budget Director Abdon Pallasch said Friday that Quinn and his staff have been meeting with as many members of the House as they can, urging them not to vote for an override if a vote is called.

“It’s a full-court press,” Pallasch said. “We’re working it very hard.”

Gambling advocates were still pushing last week for a vote to override Quinn’s veto of a plan to add would five new casinos, including one in Chicago, and put slot machines at horse racing tracks. But by the end of the week, they said their focus had shifted to coming up with a compromise deal to be voted on later.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wants what would be the city’s first casino, said last week that he and Quinn were “very close” to an agreement on resolving Quinn’s objections. And Quinn reiterated earlier statements that a deal could come together before Jan. 9, when newly elected lawmakers are sworn in to office and a new legislative year begins. Emanuel was hesitant, however, to agree to a time frame.

Quinn said over the weekend that he didn’t think any deal on a gambling expansion should come until lawmakers pass legislation reforming the state’s pension system. Quinn has focused most of his efforts this year focused on ways to address the approximately $96 billion in unfunded liability.

“I don’t think we should be doing legislation on gambling until we deal with eating our vegetables and spinach, and that’s reforming the whole pension system,” Quinn told reporters at an unrelated event Sunday.

Rep. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said Thursday he could introduce legislation this week to get that process moving, though the bill would likely not take a final form until after New Year’s Day.

Other legislation introduced last week included a proposal to allow driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, a bill Quinn has said he will sign if it gets to his desk. A Senate committee gave it initial approval, and the full Senate is expected to take up the measure this week. If lawmakers approve it the bill needs to go to the House, where for timing reasons a final vote couldn’t occur until early January.

Supporters say the measure, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, would make roads safer and save money by ensuring more motorists are tested and have insurance. Opponents say it equates to the state encouraging illegal immigration.

The issue also comes with political implications. That’s particularly true for Republicans, whose party lost big in the Nov. 6 election in part because Latino voters – whose numbers are growing in Illinois and nationally – turned out in force for Democratic candidates.

A measure to allow the use of medical marijuana by people with medical conditions such as cancer, HIV and glaucoma also could come to a vote. Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said he was just a few votes shy of what he needs in the House, and he planned to spend the weekend trying to secure those final allies.

“I think we have a reasonable chance to pass it (this week) in the House,” Lang said.

The House also could get a bill that barely passed the Senate last week to require publicly traded corporations to make their Illinois income tax bills public. Cullerton has said it would help lawmakers and taxpayers determine whether the tax breaks given by the General Assembly are worthwhile. But Republicans criticized it as anti-business.

And Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, is counting votes to determine if, or when, to introduce legislation to allow gay marriage. Harris declined to say last week how the numbers were looking, but he said he is encouraged by what he sees as major shift in public opinion in favor of gay rights.

If the measure doesn’t get a vote this week, it could come up in early January, when lawmakers on their way out the door have been known to cast votes in ways they may not if they were facing re-election.

In the final days of the 2011 lame-duck session, the legislature voted on some of the biggest issues in years: a major tax increase intended to bolster the state budget, allowing civil unions for same-sex couples and abolishing the death penalty.

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