Before Lame Ducks Fly Away: Veto Session Preview

Illinois lawmakers began November with an election that solidified Democratic majorities.
They’ll finish the month back at the Capitol. Although it’s technically a veto session, look for more to pop up as well.

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.

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.

BEDELL: “It’s going to be a very rough session.”

Anti-gambling activist Anita Bedell:

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.

BEDELL: “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:

LIN: “We’re as optimistic as we’ve ever been.”

It’s cautious optimism …

LIN: “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.

HARRIS: “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.

And the current General Assembly’s scheduled to return AGAIN at the start of the new year.  They can vote right up until new legislators are sworn in.

Meaning there’s plenty of time left before the so-called “lame duck” legislators fly away.

I’m Amanda Vinicky.

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