Stem-cell bill fails by two votes
SPRINGFIELD – The General Assembly's six-day veto session ended quietly Thursday without sending the governor his hoped-for capital construction budget, while a controversial measure to endorse embryonic stem-cell research failed by two votes.
Talk of a possible gambling expansion bill or a vote on stalled gay-rights legislation proved to be just that, all talk, and little other substantive action occurred on Thursday.
After nearly an hour and a half of debate, a Senate motion to adopt the stem-cell language failed on a vote of 28 to 29, with one member voting present and one not voting. Thirty votes were needed for passage.
State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, who sponsored the legislation, said it would allow a couple to donate frozen embryos, which might otherwise be destroyed, for use in research that could potentially help patients with a variety of diseases including diabetes and Alzheimer's.
"We have an ability to help Illinois and to help science make dramatic breakthroughs," he said.
Stem cells are important to researchers because they can divide and morph into any kind of cell in the human body. Stem cells extracted from embryos (fertilized eggs) are considered the most adaptable type of stem cells, but they are controversial because the embryo must be destroyed in order to obtain them.
State Sen. Christine Radogno, R-LaGrange, who supported the measure, equated the process of frozen embryo donation to that of donating an organ. But other lawmakers disagreed, including state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa; state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon; and state Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana.
"The sanctity of human life in this argument matters," Winkel said. "The sanctity of a human embryo must be respected."
Terrence McLennand, assistant director for state government relations at the University of Illinois, said the UI supported the measure because it would create a favorable environment for researchers.
The legislation is expected to return in one form or another next year.
The new House and Senate calendars circulated on Thursday showed plans to return to Springfield on Jan. 10 and 11 to address any unfinished business from the 93rd General Assembly before swearing in the 94th General Assembly at noon on Jan. 12.
Any bills that do not make it to the governor's desk before the end of 93rd General Assembly must be refiled for the 94th General Assembly, which runs from January 2005 to January 2007.
Among the bills still awaiting final action is HB 925, which would expand an existing University of Illinois tuition waiver program for children of veterans to include the offspring of those now serving in the war against terrorism. The measure passed in the Senate on Wednesday, but the House did not call it for a vote before adjourning on Thursday.
The House also has yet to vote on HB 768, which the Senate approved on Thursday. The bill is an initiative of Winkel and state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, to make cooperative high schools eligible for the state's school construction grant program.
Winkel said the bill is designed to help the Catlin, Oakwood and Jamaica school districts he and Black represent. A referendum supporting a jointly-operated cooperative high school for those districts would have a better chance of passage if such schools were eligible for the grant program.
"Current state law does not provide economic assistance to build a cooperative high school, but we think it should be expanded to reflect the changing needs of many smaller districts who are facing tough economic realities," Black said.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich had hoped to see lawmakers use the veto session to pass a capital budget for building schools and other construction projects, but it did not occur either.
"Basically the governor wanted a capital bill, but there wasn't consensus on a dedicated revenue stream," said Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch.
Lawmakers said the problem was not just how to pay for the construction budget, but the fact that the governor refused to detail exactly what projects would be included.
It is unlikely that the standoff will be resolved any time soon.
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