Gun laws, scholarship tax credits, nuclear energy – but not new spending – on table for veto session

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SPRINGFIELD – When lawmakers return to the Capitol next week for their annual fall veto session, they have a full agenda, including a handful of vetoes from Gov. JB Pritzker to consider overriding, in addition to deciding whether to revive a private school scholarship program.

But additional state spending is unlikely to be on their agenda, according to recent comments from both the governor and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

The prospect of a supplemental spending plan had been floated in recent months after the state ended the previous fiscal year with a surplus of about $700 million and revenues have continued to meet projections in the first quarter of the current fiscal year

New Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson had hoped the state might allocate more funding to help the city house some of the 18,500 migrants who have been bussed to Illinois from southern U.S. border states such as Florida and Texas in the past year.  

But Welch indicated last week that no such funding package would materialize in the veto session, answering a reporter’s inquiry about whether Johnson had requested the additional funding in a recent meeting between the two. 

“At that time, there was no request made (from Johnson), specifically because I think I made it clear that we were not expecting to do a supplemental budget in veto session,” Welch said. 

The veto session runs Oct. 24 to 26 and Nov. 7 to 9.   

Invest in Kids Act

While Welch poured cold water on the prospect of a supplemental spending plan, advocates for a state private school scholarship program are hoping lawmakers can come to an agreement on keeping the program alive. 

The Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program was created by lawmakers in 2017 as part of a bipartisan compromise that ushered in a complete overhaul of the way Illinois funds its public schools. 

An initiative of school choice advocates, the program provides a 75 percent income tax credit for contributions made to scholarship funds for private schools. In other words, someone who contributes $100 to such a scholarship fund can deduct $75 directly off the amount they owe in state income taxes.  The program has been capped at a collective maximum of $75 million per year for the tax breaks.

Without legislative action, however, that program will sunset at the end of this year.

Supporters of the program argue that it provides children from lower-income families an opportunity to attend private or parochial schools that would otherwise be accessible only to wealthier families. But critics argue that it’s a back-door way of sending public tax dollars to private schools at the expense of public schools that are already underfunded.

In recent days, behind-the-scenes discussions have taken place between advocates and legislative staff on possible changes to the program that would satisfy critics, according to sources familiar with the talks. Those include reducing the maximum amount of tax credits available and incentivizing scholarship funds to target students from the most disadvantaged areas of the state.

Asked about the program’s chances at an unrelated event Thursday, Pritzker said he’d be willing to sign an extension of the program “in whatever form.”

“I mean, I can’t imagine it would show up in some form that I would be unwilling to,” he said. “But again, the reality is that the legislature needs to go through this process.”

In response Friday morning, the heads of the state’s two largest teachers’ unions issued a scathing statement accusing Pritzker of siding with “anti-public education Republican governors.”

“Illinois cannot afford to support two school systems – one, a public system where schools are held accountable, educate ALL students, and exist for the common good, and a second that does none of this,” the union presidents said.

Legislative staff unions

Another issue likely to come up during veto session is a change to the state’s labor laws that would allow certain legislative staffers to unionize.

Last year, a group of employees in Welch’s office formed the Illinois Legislative Staff Association in an attempt to establish a union. Current state law, however, specifically exempts legislative staff from the categories of public employees who are allowed to unionize.

But organizers of the unionization effort pointed to the passage last year of a state constitutional amendment that declares employees in Illinois have a “fundamental right” to organize and engage in collective bargaining. They also noted that Welch was a vocal supporter of that amendment.

In response, Welch introduced House Bill 4148, which would eliminate the exemption for most legislative staff and allow them to unionize. Welch has said he intends to push for the bill’s passage during the veto session, although Senate President Don Harmon’s office has said only that it would give the measure a thorough review if it clears the House.  

Read more: Welch introduces bill to allow legislative staff to unionize 

Domestic violence firearm protections 

Domestic violence advocates and a group of Democratic lawmakers are reviving a proposal left on the cutting room floor when the spring session ended in May. The bill would clarify existing law that mandates guns be taken away from an alleged abuser after a judge grants a certain type of domestic violence order of protection against them.

The revamped measure has been dubbed “Karina’s Bill” for Karina Gonzalez, a Chicago woman whose husband allegedly shot to her to death in July just weeks after she secured an order of protection against him.

Read more: Advocates push for guns to be taken from domestic abusers when order of protection served

Firearm Owner’s Identification, or FOID, cards are automatically suspended for the duration of an order of protection, whether for domestic violence or other reasons. But current law allows those who’ve been hit with orders of protection to transfer their guns to anyone with a valid FOID card, including to someone who lives in the same residence.

Current law also is unclear on how law enforcement should confiscate guns from alleged abusers whose domestic violence orders of protection include the “firearm remedy” – one of 18 additional requests victims can make to the court when filing for a protective order. The bill would clarify that law enforcement should seize the firearms within 48 hours of a judge granting such an order. Under the proposal, the judge would also be explicitly empowered to issue a warrant for officers to seize the guns at the same time they serve the order of protection.

Earlier this month, the bill’s co-sponsors said they’re still working out details on process – including where local law enforcement would store temporarily confiscated guns – with the Illinois State Police and other stakeholders.

Nuclear moratorium 

In a move that pleased environmental groups, Pritzker this summer vetoed Senate Bill 76, which would have lifted a nearly 40-year moratorium on new nuclear power station construction. The bill would have only allowed companies to build “advanced” nuclear reactors as defined by federal law. 

The bill initially passed with bipartisan majorities in the House, 84-22-3, and Senate, 36-14. 

But while Pritzker said he saw potential in some new nuclear technology such as small modular reactors to be built in the state, he wrote that the bill contains “no regulatory protections for the health and safety of Illinois residents who would live and work around these new reactors.” 

Read more: Nuclear option: Illinois grapples with the future of nuclear power 

The moratorium on all new nuclear construction has been in place since the 1980s, passed in light of concerns over the storage and disposal of nuclear fuel. The moratorium was set to remain in effect until the federal government designates a method of disposing nuclear waste — something it has never done. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, filed a new version of the proposal on Wednesday that she said would “clearly address the governor’s stated reasons for his veto.” 

The new bill contains identical language to her original version of SB 76 before it was amended as part of negotiations this spring. Rezin told Capitol News Illinois she supports an override vote but filed her new bill in case legislative leaders choose not to call it. 

“Either way, this issue needs to be resolved before we leave Springfield in November,” Rezin said in an email statement. 

Read more: Pritzker vetoes bill that would have allowed new nuclear construction 

Right of first refusal 

Pritzker also issued an amendatory veto on another piece of energy legislation, nixing a controversial provision in a broader bill that would grant existing electric utilities in downstate Illinois the “right of first refusal” for transmission line construction until the end of 2024. 

An amendatory veto changes only certain portions of a bill, giving lawmakers the opportunity to accept or override the changes, or to let the bill die entirely.

The change would mean that for new long-distance power lines, established companies like Ameren Illinois or municipal utilities would be asked if they wanted to build the project before other companies, circumventing a federally outlined competitive bidding process. 

The bill passed through the General Assembly with slim, bipartisan margins, 63-32-2 in the House and 41-9-1 in the Senate. But in his veto message to lawmakers, Pritzker said the proposal would “eliminate competition and raise costs for rate payers.”

The grid operator for downstate Illinois, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, has estimated the cost for its current round of transmission line projects in the region to be between $20 and $30 billion.

Corey Stone, a representative of IBEW 51 and vocal advocate for the provision, told Capitol News Illinois this week that he is worried out-of-state companies may bid on transmission line projects and not use Illinois’ unionized workers. 

“We’re trying to maintain the status quo,” Stone said. 

Read more: Pritzker vetoes measure granting Ameren authority over transmission line construction

Other measures and vetoes

Pritzker also vetoed a handful of other measures this summer that lawmakers may take up next week along with other standalone bills. 

Delta-8, other hemp regulations: Democrats are once again attempting to regulate delta-8 THC – a cannabis-derived synthetic drug that’s exploded in popularity over the last few years – and similar hemp-derived products.

Delta-8 purportedly causes a milder high than the effects most THC users would be used to from the delta-9-THC found in most marijuana or cannabis products. But because it’s unregulated federally, delta-8 products accessible to the casual consumer may contain contaminants including heavy metals – and reports of users getting sick are on the rise.

Leaders in Illinois’ four-year-old recreational cannabis industry are split on whether they want the substance banned or merely regulated. But State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, is pushing for the strict regulation, licensing and taxation of delta-8 in order to prevent incentivizing “bad actors” on the “black market.” He filed his proposed regulations in House Bill 4161 earlier this month after failing to pass it in a broader bill this spring.

Read more: Cannabis regulatory reform bill fails to advance in spring legislative session

Elected Chicago school board: For nearly three decades, Chicago’s school board has been appointed by the city’s mayor, rather than elected. But next November, that’s supposed to change after a 2021 state law sought to phase back in electing board members.

But in the last two years since Democrats in Springfield passed the elected school board law, negotiations on drawing electoral maps have proven difficult. They punted on their spring deadline to approve the districts but could try to hammer out an agreement during veto session.

Ten members on the 21-member board are slated to be chosen in next November’s general election, and the board will run as a hybrid elected-appointed model for two years until the next 11 are elected in 2026 – including one president elected citywide.

A contract ‘they cannot execute’: Pritzker also vetoed a narrowly passed bill that would have required the Illinois State Board of Education to sign a master contract to offer religious dietary options as part of school lunches. House Bill 3643 passed 63-34 in the House, which is short of the three-fifths majority needed to override a veto. 

In his veto message, Pritzker called the bill “well-intentioned,” but said it would force ISBE to enter a contract “they cannot execute,” and the General Assembly also did not provide funding for such a contract.

Nursing home tax breaks: House Bill 2507 made several property tax changes, many of which Pritzker said he supports, including creating property tax relief for surviving spouses of first responders. 

But in a message announcing his amendatory veto, Pritzker said he would strike a provision that “gives nursing home operators in Cook County a property tax break which passes that cost on to suburban Cook County homeowners and small businesses,” particularly in the south suburbs.

Potential for corruption ‘too great’: House Bill 2878 also received an amendatory veto. That wide-ranging bill included language governing public-private partnerships entered into by the Illinois Toll Highway Authority and the Department of Transportation. But it also would have allowed counties and other units of government to engage in such partnerships. That would have allowed municipalities to skirt “transparency and anti-corruption requirements established in state statute,” the governor wrote. 

“The potential in this bill for opacity and corruption is too great,” Pritzker wrote. 

‘Irreconcilable drafting errors’: The governor issued a full veto of Senate Bill 1515, a measure pertaining to workplace privacy protections. The governor wrote that he vetoed the bill “at the request of the sponsors and advocates,” making it an unlikely candidate for an override vote. Pritzker did note he’d work with lawmakers and advocates on a new bill to correct “irreconcilable drafting errors” in the original measure. 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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