Big issues remain as adjournment nears

SPRINGFIELD — With less than a week until the Legislature's scheduled adjournment on May 31, several major issues remain unresolved by lawmakers:

PENSIONS: Senate President John Cullerton said Friday that there aren't enough votes in the Senate to pass a House-sponsored pension bill, and House Speaker Michael Madigan so far has refused to call a pension bill that cleared the Senate.

"So I'm going to continue next week to see if I can reach some kind of a compromise," Cullerton said Friday, suggesting again a measure that would include two separate pieces of legislation "and then we can have the court decide on" which bill was constitutional.

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he isn't panicking.

"Isn't this the typical nail-biter, end-of-the-year business? You leave everything until the last 48 hours," Rose said.

CONCEALED CARRY: The House on Friday approved a concealed-carry bill that pre-empts any more restrictive local ordinances. Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, predicted it would easily pass the House, but Cullerton, also a Chicago Democrat, said he would work to defeat the bill.

BUDGET: Cullerton said there is general agreement between the Senate and House Democrats on spending levels for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Individual line-items will be determined over this weekend, he said, with a possible vote later next week. The top priority, he said, is to "restore education money" that had been cut by Gov. Pat Quinn's budget.

Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said he hopes that higher education receives the same level of funding as the current fiscal year "especially since there are discussions about a (pension) cost shift toward our universities and community colleges. I think if you're going to make them take a cut there, it would be nice to at least hold them level with their state appropriations."

TUSCOLA FERTILIZER PLANT: The legislation to provide state incentives to attract a $1.2 billion fertilizer plant on Tuscola's west side is struck in the House Rules Committee. Rose said he is confident the measure will be considered in the closing days of the session.

"I think this is classic Speaker Madigan. He holds all of his cards until the end," Rose said. "There are too many jobs at stake with this."

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Senate Bill 10 has already passed the Senate but is still short of the needed 60 votes in the House.

FRACKING: A House committee unanimously approved a hydraulic-fracturing bill (SB 1715) on Tuesday, but there has been no action since. If approved in the House, the legislation would go back to the Senate for concurrence with House amendments.

GAMBLING EXPANSION: "We have worked with the governor and the gaming board to try to get a bill that he wouldn't veto," Cullerton said Friday. "I feel very confident that maybe it's just too long ... for people to actually read it. We have put in there language that is so clear that the gaming board has the authority to regulate all the casinos equally."

A House committee is scheduled to take up the gambling bill (SB 1739) on Monday. The Senate approved the expanded gambling bill, which includes casinos in Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and the south suburbs, in late April.

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