SPRINGFIELD – A push to fight crime by imposing stiffer penalties for having guns on urban streets came to an abrupt halt Thursday when black lawmakers in the Illinois House used a procedural measure to stall proposed legislation, saying the bill was too focused on locking up young men.
The House adjourned shortly after, and the Senate followed a few hours later after failing to address a package of incentives to keep businesses in Illinois or lure other companies here. Adjournment left key issues undone and raised the specter of lawmakers returning to Springfield before the end of the year.
The end of the annual two-week fall session also came and went without resolution of the biggest item pressing on lawmakers, the $100 billion pension debt and how to erase it.
Thursday began with what appeared to be an agreement on the anti-gun bill backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who believes it critical for helping the city combat gang violence.
The proposal, negotiated for weeks by Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat, would stiffen prison penalties for felons and gang members caught with weapons. It finally garnered National Rifle Association support when Zalewski agreed not to toughen the penalty for first-time offenders. The final proposed language called for them to serve half of a minimum one-year sentence rather than serving 85 percent of it.
But Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, D-Chicago, head of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, called on a procedural move that halted its progress on the floor. He demanded information from Gov. Pat Quinn's administration on the impact of the measure, including the cost and the effect on the prison population. The answers were not immediately provided, and the House adjourned.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson traveled to the Capitol on Thursday to lobby against the "mandatory minimum" sentencing measure. He said jails already are overcrowded and the focus should be on education and jobs, "not incarceration."
The Illinois Senate quit several hours later without voting on proposed tax breaks for Archer Daniels Midland Co. or the newly merged OfficeMax and Office Depot, to keep facilities and jobs in Illinois.
Decatur-based ADM would get $30 million for keeping its planned global headquarters in Illinois, and the new office-store company, with home offices in Naperville, would receive $53 million.
Several lawmakers said they expect to return to Springfield in December with hopes of finalizing a deal to fix pension systems that provide retirement benefits to state workers. They say action on other measures can be resumed then.
The gun bill is SB1342. The incentives bills are HB2536 and HB3271.
Contact John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor