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Area lawmakers look for busy session in Springfield

McHenry County’s representatives in Springfield anticipate addressing issues such as expansion of gambling and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants during the six-day fall veto session that starts today.

But don’t expect an attempt to slay Squeezy the Pension Python by shifting teachers’ pensions to local property taxes until the lame-duck session in January.

As for Gov. Pat Quinn’s pension shift plan, local legislators are highly skeptical he can find the votes to do it. Reps. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, call the plan dead in the water as a way of addressing the state’s $83 billion unfunded public pension liability. Suburban lawmakers who oppose the idea say taxpayers, whose property tax bills continue to climb despite falling house values, can’t take the extra strain.

“I don’t know how you could possibly represent a district of suburban and downstate voters, or even suburban Cook, and possibly vote for a cost shift,” Tryon said. “I don’t think you could do that. It’s wrong.”

But local lawmakers said other issues, such as expanding gambling, could make progress during the session.

Quinn in late August vetoed a bill that would have allowed five new casinos in Illinois, including one in Chicago, and video gambling machines at horse-racing tracks. The governor in his veto message cited a lack of oversight and an inadequate amount of new revenues slated for public education. Of McHenry County’s five local lawmakers, only Rep. Kent Gaffney, R-Lake Barrington, voted for it. Gaffney was not re-elected and is leaving office to be replaced by Republican David McSweeney.

Franks and Tryon are uncertain whether an outright override will be attempted or whether a new bill will be crafted that would be acceptable to Quinn. Franks said he expects a new bill, given that House Speaker Michael Madigan is getting involved.

The powerful Democratic House Speaker in the past recused himself from the gambling issue to avoid a potential conflict of interest with his law practice, which he has said might serve casino-development clients. Madigan’s spokesman and House gambling bill sponsor Lou Lang, D-Skokie, have said that such a potential conflict no longer exists.

“I think they might do another bill, simply because for the first time in 20 years the speaker is getting involved in the gambling issue.” Franks said. “When the speaker gets involved in a bill, it usually passes.”

Both Franks and Tryon expressed concern about legislation that gets pushed off to January in the days before the new General Assembly is sworn in. The historic 67 percent income-tax increase passed that way in 2011 with the bare minimum of votes necessary, including 12 departing lawmakers. Six of the lame ducks subsequently ended up with government jobs and pensions.

The January post-election session – when rules for passage of bills revert back to a simple majority – has become a time in recent years to pass major legislation. Besides the tax increase, lawmakers in the last lame-duck session abolished the death penalty and approved civil unions.

Franks said he has heard rumblings that there may be an effort in this lame-duck session to make the tax increase permanent instead of allowing it to expire as scheduled starting in 2014. Thirty-five current lawmakers are retiring or lost their re-election bids.

“I think the governor’s plan is to push as much as possible into lame-duck [session] when he can deal more successfully with the legislators who are leaving than the ones who will be around,” Franks said.

Other issues that could be addressed this session include an override of Quinn’s veto of a bill allowing residents to buy ammunition by mail from Illinois suppliers. Quinn used his amendatory veto after the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting to craft the bill into a ban on assault weapons that stalled in the House. Lawmakers also could take up pushing back a special election to replace resigned Democratic U.S. Rep, Jesse Jackson Jr. to the April nonpartisan election to save money.

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