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Off the rails

Monday, Jan 7, 2013

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column looks at the Senate’s failed lame duck session

Thursday was not exactly a banner day for the Illinois Senate Democratic leadership. In high-profile moves, its attempts to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage stalled as did bills on gun control.

Even a much-needed spending bill was unable to move out of committee. Pension reform went nowhere. The biggest winners were cigarette makers, of all people.

The gay marriage bill turned out to be a dud. Opponents pointed out some serious issues with its drafting, which, for instance, appeared to mandate that facilities owned by churches or religious groups allow same-sex marriage ceremonies. Proponents denied that, but they seemed to be on some shaky ground.

The measure was moved forward at the behest of some wealthy financial backers who appeared to dictate the timing, which is never a good thing in Springfield. The bill’s supporters said three senators who were supposed to vote for the bill were not at the statehouse and that kept them from passing it.

But even if that were true, the drafting questions likely would have doomed the measure in the House. And the millionaire-funded media blitz didn’t work. Media blitzes, no matter how impressive, aren’t effective in the Legislature if the bill is flawed and the votes aren’t there.

On the positive side for the proponents, Senate Republicans remained quite civil during a committee hearing on the gay marriage bill. And Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said during the hearing that she believed a bipartisan compromise could be reached on the legislation.

Despite last week’s stumbling, it looks like legalizing gay marriage eventually could pass. But its initial failure was an avoidable embarrassment for its supporters.

Meanwhile, an intense lobbying effort by gun-rights groups and a serious overreach by proponents derailed two gun control bills. The pro-gun groups claimed the bills would result in a ban on a vast array of commonly used weapons and would unconstitutionally restrict gun owners’ rights.

The legislation clearly was doomed as written, and even some gun control lobbyists were less than enthused about the task they were handed.

A prominent gun control senator said privately that some aspects of the legislation were so broadly written that they would have to be removed if there were any hope of passage in the future. He said he was not involved in the bill drafting and didn’t know who was.

As a result, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), a staunch gun opponent, said last week that he would “absolutely” work with gun-rights groups on a compromise, which includes a federal appeals court mandate to pass a concealed-carry law. But Cullerton could be negotiating from weakness, now that his attempts to ram through sweeping gun control provisions have failed.

A bill containing state spending authorization for construction, new caseworkers for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, workers compensation claims and education grants went nowhere after a revolt by some legislators, mainly members of the Black Caucus.

Caucus members withheld their votes because a bill by Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) to set up a revolving loan program for minority road contractors has gone nowhere in the House.

Last year, when the state hiked its cigarette tax by almost $1 a pack, the tobacco industry cut a deal to pass a bill that limited appeal bonds. Now, state law mandates that bonds be posted equal to 11/2 times a judgment in certain civil cases before a ruling can be appealed.

That resulted in a required $12 billion appeal bond years ago when Philip Morris lost a case involving Marlboro Lights. That bond was lowered after negotiations, but the company has been fighting ever since to get into law a lower bond requirement.

The House passed a bill last year, but Cullerton, a visceral anti-tobacco legislator, bottled it up in the Senate. But it passed last week after the trial lawyers were given a neat little plum that guarantees them higher contingency fees in big medical malpractice cases.

* As you already know, the assault weapons ban died in the House yesterday

Add gun-control legislation to the growing legislative scrap heap for what thus far has been a lame lame-duck session.

Citing a lack of support, the House sponsor of bans on military-style weapons — dubbed “assault weapons” by critics — and the high-powered ammunition that feeds them decided Sunday not to call either measure for a vote in his chamber. […]

State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), one of the House’s leading gun-rights advocates, said he was surprised the gun bills weren’t called even though he thinks a majority of House members were spooked by the expansive nature of the legislation, which he said could affect as up to 85 percent of all guns.

“It’s just too broad and covers way too many guns,” Phelps said. “The way I’ve heard from other people, they’re not sitting down negotiating this bill. They’re just throwing something out there to see if this sticks.”

* Sen. Jeff Schoenberg is very unhappy with being singled out for blame on the gay marriage bill’s defeat

Retiring State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg says he’s surprised Democrats pushed a gay marriage proposal if they needed his vote because they knew he’d be out of the country.

And the Evanston Democrat told The Associated Press Sunday he had already resigned effective Monday so his replacement could get to work.

Schoenberg and his family spent nearly two weeks in Jerusalem for his son’s bar mitzvah. He says Senate President John Cullerton’s office was aware that he would be back this weekend in case his vote was needed.

Schoenberg is right. Blaming him is ridiculous since the bill came up so many votes short of passage. They knew he’d be gone. They could’ve just delayed the vote until the next General Assembly. Instead, they pushed forward and looked bad in the process.

* Senate President Cullerton says it wasn’t a waste of time

‘Did we waste time by doing this exercise? Absolutely not,’ he said. Committee hearings ‘flushed out the opposition’ on where Democrats could improve the bills.

‘It’s not an admission we did something wrong,’ Cullerton said. ‘When they raise issues, we say, ‘OK, we’ll make this clear, maybe that would help you?’ And they say, ‘Sure.’ ‘

* Also, Cullerton’s corporate tax bill went off the rails in the House yesterday

An Illinois House committee has voted down legislation requiring that some corporations make their income-tax bills public.

The revenue and finance committee rejected the proposal Sunday, keeping it in committee. Several Republicans called it anti-business and anti-employment.

I’ll have more on this mess as we move forward.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


27 Comments
  1. - shore - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 9:33 am:

    That kind of a trip is planned years in advance, a once in a lifetime thing, and extremely expensive-I don’t like Schoenberg at all but that criticism is one of the worst things of the year. I understand it’s politics in a rough political arena and there’s a lot at stake, but that should never even enter people’s heads.

    Reading some of the stuff posted over the weekend-the Bomke piece about “how we need a edgar/ryan type”-I almost wanted to vomit thinking it sounded like a help wanted posting for Kirk Dillard. I don’t think the tea party will allow it, but it really really made me sick. Republicans can’t spend 12 painful wilderness years just to go back to what happened before.


  2. - The Captain - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 9:36 am:

    “SNAFU, the lame-duckening”


  3. - Prole #222 - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 9:38 am:

    So who are the “wealthy financial backers” behind the gay marriage bill?

    I am assuming that I either don’t need to know who they are, or aren’t allowed to know who they are, since Rich did not mention him in the article and danced around it.

    I just need to know if this is a Koch-like situation where someone is trying to outright buy influence in Springfield. Or maybe I am not supposed to know that…


  4. - western illinois - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 9:43 am:

    ….for wealth donors….sounds like the pension fiasco…..I see at least 3 bills that are just unconstitutional at the state or federal or both level….guns far to broad…amendment 2 ….forcing regious institutions to do something against their religion…amaendment 1 and the pension bill …the contract clause of the constitution
    How did the lawyers in this group pass the bar?


  5. - amalia - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 9:48 am:

    so who is to blame for the mess up on the Senate gun regulation bill?


  6. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 9:49 am:

    –‘Did we waste time by doing this exercise? Absolutely not,’ he said. Committee hearings ‘flushed out the opposition’ on where Democrats could improve the bills.–

    Because the stealthy opposition to these measures had been in hiding and silent all this time.

    You better sit down for a while after spinning like that.


  7. - ChicagoR - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 9:51 am:

    While I agree that Schoenberg shouldn’t be “blamed” for their scheduling votes when they knew he was going to be out of the country, I’m still a little unclear. If he was resigning before the end of the term anyway, why didn’t he just do so before the trip?


  8. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:01 am:

    Sen. Steans, blaming Schoenberg, has lost considerable credibility and might be someone her colleagues will think twice in trusting, and whos WORD is now stained.

    Who blames a colleague, a Lame Duck colleague, when that colleague tells everyone, and their Brother, “Look, I am going to be out of town, heck, out of the country…” and then you…

    Sen. Steans …BLAME …

    Sen. Steans blames others for not knowing how to “count”? I can care less if Cullerton, or SDem Staff, or Advocates MADE Steans call the procedure vote, you never, EVER, call someone out for a fact you knew had not changed, (uh, Sen. Steans, Sen. schoenberg is STLL out of town, like he said!) to cover YOUR inept handling of not being able to count noses Your handling of this is quite pathetic, Sen. Steans.

    Own it, Sen. Steans. Then your credibility might be slavaged.

    Do you not take ANY blame? This is like Sen. Steans saying, “I had the bill, but my dog ate it, so I don’t know where it is.”

    Bad Form, Sen. Steans, Bad Form!


  9. - Responsa - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:12 am:

    I agree with Willy that Sen. Steans did not emerge from this well at all. Her position on marriage is ultimately on the right side of history. But politics is finesse and art, and she did not appear artful or competent in this lame duck session fiasco. Bringing in outsider “celebrities” for endless photo ops, blaming her absent colleagues, and not understanding that the citizens of Il really wanted to focus right now on pension reform all combined to make her look like a one trick pony.

    I hope she at least learned something from this.


  10. - walkinfool - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:16 am:

    The poorly constructed gun bill clarified for the public the reasons for opposition, for any swing vote, and might have made a better-written bill harder to pass. When a prominent gun-control senator doesn’t even know where the language came from, someone acted in haste and screwed up. Cullerton wears the ugly jacket for this one.

    On the pension issue, I am a Radogno fan and expected better from her. It ain’t over, and she can still come through supporting a real bi-partisan solution, rather than a half-baked, unbalanced, political statement.


  11. - Third Reading - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:23 am:

    Call this the “Sausage Session.”

    To me, these few days really were the last best hope for making barely palatable political sausage out of several exceedingly difficult issues.

    Sitting here this morning and sipping now-cold coffee, it seems to me that that hope has been squandered.

    And it’s not because of the sausage-making process itself. It’s because of inept preparation by the sausage makers.

    I truly hope that I end up amazed that they pull something constructive out of all of this.

    I’m outta here.


  12. - Third Reading - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    Call it semantics. Or political correctness, if you must.

    But I, for one, think that “marriage equality” is a far more accurate (and appropriate) term than “gay marriage.”

    I’m outta here.


  13. - Anyone Remember? - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    Bright Shiny Objects …


  14. - Third Reading - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:37 am:

    Guess I’m on a roll this morning.

    These matters really are far too important to get snarky about them. But the punster in me can’t resist.

    Snark lede: “Legislators rail about third-rail issues going off the rails.”

    With that off my chest: the across-the-board disorganization in properly prepping and vetting these issues is (to me) nothing short of astonishing.

    It’s a shame. A doggone flat-out cryin’ shame.

    I’m outta here.


  15. - Plutocrat03 - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:42 am:

    The lack of legislative productivity is mind blowing.

    When you can’t pass gimmie legislation, how do you expect to pass something harder?


  16. - Demoralized - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:43 am:

    @Prole #222:

    You can thank the Citizens United case for that. When the Supreme Court made thier kooky decision that money is “speech” they totally destroyed the entire system.


  17. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 10:45 am:

    –Republicans can’t spend 12 painful wilderness years just to go back to what happened before.–

    Winning? Setting the agenda? Governing?

    –So who are the “wealthy financial backers” behind the gay marriage bill?

    I am assuming that I either don’t need to know who they are, or aren’t allowed to know who they are, since Rich did not mention him in the article and danced around it.–

    It’s a great secret, known only to those who follow the issue, read the Cap Fax, have access to newspapers or know how to use google. A very elite bunch, kind of like Bohemian Grove or the Bilderberg Group.


  18. - walkinfool - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    @Wordslinger: You’re a pistol! Keep firing.


  19. - Prole #222 - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 11:31 am:

    Demoralized -

    So “Citizens United” is keeping people from telling me who the big money is behind this? Do they get sent to jail or something if they DO tell me?

    I guess we really are not supposed to know.


  20. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 11:36 am:

    - Prole #222 -,

    Tin Foil hats are optional … not required.

    Hit “The Google Key”, many times, you can find “stuff”.


  21. - Prole #222 - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 11:48 am:

    Oswego Willy - Gotcha. I did, and now I know. Thanks for the help.

    (I won’t tell anyone here though, I can keep a secret!)


  22. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 11:58 am:

    - Prole #222 -,

    Yeah you!

    Don’t get too use to the Internet, it’s a fad.


  23. - wishbone - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 12:13 pm:

    I am probably the only one who believes that the over reach on the proposed gun ban aroused so much opposition from conservatives (and a fair number of us Second Amendment supporting liberals) that it spilled over to the gay marriage issue. If so it is sad. Expanding human rights, and protecting existing ones are both worthy goals.


  24. - Loop Lady - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 12:47 pm:

    hard not to fault Steans for not counting her votes prior to announcing publicly that she would call it…to fault Schoenberg is in very poor taste…Steans fills the chair but can’t close the deal…


  25. - shore - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 1:44 pm:

    a bar mitzvah is for a kid who turns 13, they’re planned 2-4 years out and can cost in the 5 figures or more per kid. This was not something that was decided last summer. Try again. Schoenberg also was on a recent trip overseas with george bush’s dhs chief michael chertoff and some donors to look at pol pot’s work in cambodia. You want to take a shot, that’s a better target.

    “Winning, governing, setting the agenda”-Mr. Edgar has been out of office for 14 years. What exactly has his vaunted operation done to reclaim the state, other than take shots at people he doesn’t like and deny opportunities to run for office. Dillard ran in 2010 and was denied by primary voters. His credential for Governor seems to be a job he left 21 years ago. Excuse me while I say no thanks.


  26. - Incredulous - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 1:44 pm:

    Sen Steans has not be accurate or reliable on many occasions,including her own personal financial shortcomings. Perhaps she should give it a rest and learn from the more experienced ones before jumping in on every issue,and takeing the lead.


  27. - amalia - Monday, Jan 7, 13 @ 4:30 pm:

    whose bill was the gun bill? did that Senator not run things?


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