Casino issue unsettled by veto session

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Herald staff photo)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

Illinois state legislators passed bills concerning ethics, pensions and marijuana during veto session but failed to approve a comprehensive fix for a Chicago casino.

Supporters say revenue expected to pay for the $45 billion public works capital bill is endangered. The failure will also affect finances in Chicago, which faces at least an $800 million budget deficit.

The casino fix will have to wait until the General Assembly reconvenes in January, as will Sen Robert Peters’ (D-13th) real estate transfer tax, which he said was not introduced to the legislature this fall.

“We got a few things done. Not the big stuff,” Peters said in a Monday interview. “I think there’s still stuff for the city that needs to get done and figured out in the spring.”

Reps. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) and Kambium Buckner (D-26th) did not return Herald requests for comment.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who went to the capital to lobby for a fix, said the “casino is still very much in the sightline thanks to the progress we’ve made with our state partners.

“While this delay does not impact the city’s fiscal year 2020 budget, this fiscal challenge looms large for fiscal year 2021 and thereafter,” she continued. “Thus, the heightened sense of urgency remains.”

Earlier in the veto session, the General Assembly passed bills allowing high school students to leave school to vote, removing non-driving-related offenses that lead to driver’s license suspensions and clarifying the pension code regarding municipalities large enough to be required to create pension funds. Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for those measures.

In addition to broader casino legislation, bills allowing bans on public vaping and flavored vape products, making daylight savings time permanent under state law, studying red light cameras in the state and allowing college athletes to be paid for the use of their names and likenesses did not pass the legislature during the veto session. (Tarver and Buckner both co-sponsored House Bill 3904, the Student Athlete Endorsement Act.)

Those issues may come before the General Assembly in the spring, however.

Peters explained the vaping legislation — which passed the Senate 41-11 but did not come up for a House Vote — was a means to square vaping with the terms of the Smoke Free Illinois Act and said it could be used to decrease the number of Illinois smokers. He voted for it but expressed caution about creating additional legal penalties.

“We don’t have a high rate of incarceration in cracking down on these things,” Peters observed. “If it leads to anything causing more incarceration, then I have concerns … When you have bans and you crack down, they can be disproportionately done.”

The lack of success for the real estate transfer tax he and Lightfoot support wears upon him.

“I don’t want us to raise property taxes, and I want us to fund homeless services, and I know we have an opportunity to do so,” Peters said. “I really wish we could do that, because the first day of the second week of veto session was one of the coldest days of the year. I just know there were a lot of homeless folks on the street who were suffering, and I think about what we have to do.”

Peters foresees greater communication between Chicago and Springfield will be necessary to pass it next year; he said its lack of passage during veto session was not due to the short period of time that the legislature met but rather because of the scale of negotiations behind it.

Marijuana

SB 1557, which limited public consumption of marijuana to places that have no food or drink — only dispensaries with waivers from their local governments — passed 41-6 in the Senate and 90-20 in the House. Peters and Buckner voted for it; Tarver voted against.

 “My thinking is that if you’re still able to open a dispensary, you’re able to have the on-site smoking piece. I think that you do have to adhere to a previous law unless you’re going to amend that law, which then opens that law up to another thing,” Peters said, saying that cannabis consumption had been squared with terms of the Smoke Free Illinois Act.

In the future, he said he was interested in revisiting consumption in restaurants, bars and outdoors in the future. “People outside, if they’re walking, should have some more freedom,” he said. “I think it will be applied differently in different parts of town.”

“To be very frank, what frustrates me the most is that it’s hard to make transformational change simply in the state,” he said, recalling the notice to residents in public housing that, because the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) receives federal funds and because marijuana is illegal under federal law, they would not be able to use cannabis at home, as reported by NPR.

“I think there’s a whole other discussion about how the federal government treats cannabis and weed and the role of (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and what it’s become,” Peters said. “It just goes to show that if we really want transformational change on some of these things, it has to be at a nationwide level.”

Peters also took issue with the equity component of marijuana legalization in Illinois, which appears to have been a factor in Tarver’s vote against the fix.

In Nov. 14 back-and-forth with Rep. Celina Villanueva (D-21st), whose district spans areas along the Stevenson Expressway from Little Village and Brighton Park to suburban Lyons and Summit, Tarver said he wished the legislation well but said he could not support it as his issues with marijuana legalization remain unaddressed.

After getting assurance that the Chicago Black Caucus was considered a stakeholder to legalization, Tarver asked whether any of their concerns with the original bill had been allayed.

Villanueva responded that issues that were not “technical or refining” would be addressed in the spring. “Those issues will also be handled through the roll-out and implementation at the department level,” she added.

“I can’t support the bill as it stands, because I can’t go back to my community, which is all City of Chicago, and explain to them that they were unhappy with the first roll out,” Tarver responded. “This improves it, but it doesn’t really get there where they need it to be.”

In a May interview with WBEZ, Tarver said of the legalization of cannabis in Illinois, for which he voted, “All of a sudden when there’s an opportunity to make money from the same people who decimated our communities, all of a sudden it’s about criminal justice reform. It’s offensive.”

Ethics

Lawmakers passed SB 1639 to require greater lobbyist disclosure; the Senate voted 48-0 and the House voted 110-5. Republicans — who introduced many ethics bills amidst federally charged former Northwest Side Rep. Luis Arroyo’s (D-3rd) resignation and a corruption probe of Southwest Side Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-11th) — did not vote for the bill in the Senate.

House Joint Resolution 93 creates an ethics reform commission; it passed the Senate 32-18 and the House 111-4. As reported by Capitol News Illinois, House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-13th) said the commission would discuss legislators’ economic interest disclosures after requirements to legislators’ statements of economic interests were removed from the bill.

Senate and House party leaders will appoint two members of the commission each, alongside two each from the secretary of state and the attorney general and four from the governor, two from each party. Democratic appointees will hold a 10-6 majority in the constituted commission. Peters, Tarver and Buckner all voted for the bill and the resolution.

While Peters called the reforms “a good first step to get some ethics done,” he said Illinois needs stronger reform, calling for publicly financed elections and limiting legislators’ outside employment.

Insulin

SB 667 capped the out-of-pocket price that state-regulated insurance plans can charge for insulin at $100 — potentially affecting around 260,000 Illinoisans who use the drug, according to Capitol News Illinois. Pritzker says he will sign it. The Senate voted 43-1, and the House voted 100-13. Peters, Tarver and Buckner all voted for it.

Gambling expansion technical fix

Lawmakers did pass a technical fix to the big gambling expansion bill passed during the spring, adding measures the Illinois Gambling Board said they needed to process applications for new casinos and allowing sports betting. SB 222 passed the Senate 40-0 and the House 72-7; Peters voted for it. Tarver and Buckner missed the vote.

Pensions

Senate Bill (SB) 1300, which consolidated hundreds of suburban and downstate police and firefighter pensions into two unified systems, passed the Illinois Senate 42-12 and the House of Representatives 96-13. Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for it.

 Capitol News Illinois is the state government news wire service of the Illinois Press Association.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com