SPRINGFIELD — Illinois senators Wednesday defeated a veto override effort that Democrats said was special legislation to benefit one privately held health care company in the state.
The legislation (SB 2945) would have allowed the Cancer Treatment Centers of America to discriminate against hiring smokers at its Midwestern center in Zion. The override effort fell short with just 24 votes.
Among those voting not to override were Sens. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. Republican Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Dale Righter of Mattoon voted to override the veto.
The override effort attracted unusually heated rhetoric from Democrats, mostly aimed at Republican sponsor Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington.
"I don't think that we should be writing into law legislation that exclusively benefits one corporate entity and I don't think we should be doing it in a way that takes away people's rights and liberties," said Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston. "I've always supported tougher anti-smoking measures. I've supported smoking bans, but this creates a slippery slope as to how private employers can punish their employees for lawful behavior."
Schoenberg also said there was a "very serious appearance of pay to play in this legislation" because of the tie between Cancer Treatment Centers of America and campaign contributions the corporation made to Duffy and other Republicans.
During debate he referred to the corporation as "the Cash and Carry Treatment Centers of America."
Records show the company made a $10,000 contribution to Duffy's campaign committee in June.
"Maybe we should look at the campaign finance records for the Cash and Carry Treatment Centers of Americas, how they have showered tens of thousands of dollars, not just on the sponsor, but all throughout the state to one particular party because they need to have their special break," Schoenberg said. "I can't tell you how many times I have listened to the moralizers about why are the Democrats engaging in certain behaviors, and then to act as if they're totally immune from it on the other side. What hypocrisy. I can't listen to it any more."
The firm, records show, has given $177,595 in campaign contributions to Republicans and GOP organizations since 1994.
Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, said the legislation "is an invasion of privacy to the highest degree. It is big brother. We are saying to people around the state that we are going to have a two-tiered system. We are going to be able to go into people's private lives and use that information to determine how they're treated in the workplace."
Frerichs said that "one company is going to win with this legislation and the others will lose."
Republican Cultra spoke against the override attempt, saying that "the smokers of this state have taken it on the chin enough already. You can't smoke in buildings, you can't smoke in restaurants and now we're not going to employ them simply because they smoke? I can't believe this bill has even made it this far."