Mt. Vernon Register-News

November 7, 2013

Gun bill stopped; Ill. lawmakers leave work undone


Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD — — A push to fight crime by imposing stiffer penalties for having guns on urban streets came to a 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.

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 Thursday to lobby against the "mandatory minimum" sentencing measure. He said lawmakers should focus on education and jobs, "not incarceration."

Dunkin dismissed the idea that he had used a parliamentary "trick" to put a brick on the bill, saying the 31 members of the black caucus in the Senate and the House feared too many young black men would be swept up without a chance at rehabilitation.

"The collateral damage is going to be overwhelming and it's going to wrap up too many innocent citizens," Dunkin said, calling for more police on the street, money for rehabilitative programs and alternative sentencing programs.

Often, the administration responds to requests for notes on legislation within an hour, although state law allows five days for a response.

The Department of Corrections is responsible for the notes covering the cost and impact on prison population. Zalewski's legislation was changed Wednesday afternoon and Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said each change requires careful analysis.

But Zalewski pointed out that for weeks, the agency has been able to quickly respond with inmate and cost projections based on differing versions of his bill. Corrections has opposed the measure, saying it would cost $700 million extra over a decade.

Emanuel released a statement expressing disappointment that "opponents of this legislation have chosen political stunts over peoples' safety."

Zalewski began the day by appearing with Rep. Brandon Phelps, the gun-rights House leader who shepherded legislation into law last spring that allows the carrying of concealed weapons. He signaled support of the National Rifle Association because Zalewski had softened his approach to first-time gun offenders, whom the NRA feared would include otherwise law-abiding gun owners making honest mistakes.

The Senate also adjourned without approving tax breaks aimed at getting Archer Daniels Midland Company and the newly merged OfficeMax and Office Depot to locate their headquarters in Illinois.

Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, is sponsoring the $53 million incentive bill for Office Depot Inc., which emerged from the merger of Naperville-based OfficeMax and Florida-based Office Depot. It would provide the tax breaks if the company chooses to base its headquarters — and about 2,250 jobs — at its Naperville site, rather than in Florida.

Cullerton and others said they expect lawmakers to return in December to deal with the state pension crisis, and incentives can follow.

It will be easier for lawmakers "to say we've done the pensions, now let's vote on keeping businesses or bringing new businesses to Illinois," Cullerton said. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he won't consider tax breaks until he has a pension bill to sign.

The ADM sweetener would provide up to $30 million in tax breaks if the Decatur-based agribusiness giant keeps its global headquarters in Illinois. The company also would have to add 100 jobs at its new world headquarters and hundreds of jobs in Decatur over the next five years.

Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, is continuing work on the ADM bill.

The Senate also put off a vote on $5 million in incentives for Univar if the chemical distribution company moves its headquarters from Washington state to Downers Grove. The House already adopted the idea.