Three Things To Watch Before Illinois Lawmakers Head Home | WBEZ
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Three Things To Watch Before Illinois Lawmakers Head Home

Money, guns and Legionnaires’ disease are in the spotlight as Illinois lawmakers enter their final week in Springfield before they adjourn for the summer to brace (and campaign) for the upcoming midterm elections.

But they still have a full slate of legislative measures to address before heading back to their home districts, including a compromise on a state budget.

Here are the hot topics to watch for as Illinois lawmakers head into the home stretch.

Warding against budget impasse 2.0

Democratic and Republican leaders have been holding closed-door meetings in hopes of passing a state budget before Thursday’s deadline.

The fact that they’re even talking about passing a budget to get the state through the midterm election is a far cry from the war that drove the two-year budget impasse, during much of which Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan wouldn’t even meet.

That political impasse ended last summer, when a handful of Republican lawmakers broke from the governor to approve a budget that included an income tax increase - despite Rauner’s veto.

Now it appears Rauner is willing to entertain a new state budget that would rely on spending money that comes from the very same tax increase he vetoed last year. But it’s still unclear exactly what kind of budget bill he’d sign into law.

If lawmakers can’t strike a budget deal with the governor before the stroke of midnight Thursday, their job gets a lot harder, as they’ll then need even more votes to approve a spending plan.

Responding to Quincy crisis

One recent spending request from Rauner has added a wrinkle to budget negotiations.

Following a WBEZ investigation, Rauner’s administration wants to spend up to $246 million in response to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks that have continued to sicken and even kill residents of the state-run veterans’ home in downstate Quincy. That money would go toward constructing a new building, replacing the plumbing and purchasing an abandoned nursing home nearby.

The issue has dogged Rauner’s re-election campaign. And Speaker Madigan recently said he and his fellow Democrats have concerns about the governor’s plan.

“We know all too well that we are in this situation entirely because for three years Governor Rauner failed to act, attempted to shift blame, and hid the truth even from our veterans, their loved ones and their caregivers,” Madigan said in a statement.

Lawmakers are also considering several other pieces of legislation in response to WBEZ’s reporting. One bill would mandate that veterans’ home staff notify residents’ families within one day of infectious disease outbreaks, like Legionnaires’ disease. Another would raise Illinois’ lowest-in-the-nation cap on negligence awards to victims’ families, from $100,000 to $2 million.

Guns, guns, guns

Lawmakers have also been debating several pieces of legislation in response to recent gun violence and mass shootings.

One would impose a penalty on someone who transfers a firearm to another person without first checking their gun license. That’s in response to the Waffle House shooting outside of Nashville last month.

Another would require gun stores in Illinois be licensed by the state. Democrats are still pushing this bill despite the fact that Rauner vetoed a previous version.

Yet another would require a 72-hour waiting period for anyone who’s buying what lawmakers define as an “assault weapon.” After lawmakers approved the bill, Rauner made a dramatic change using his amendatory veto power, adding language that would end the state’s ban on the death penalty for mass murderers and people who kill police officers. Rauner also recently tweeted that he supports the death penalty for those who kill firefighters, though that was not included in his amendatory veto. When governors have dramatically rewritten legislation like this in the past, lawmakers have rarely approved it.

Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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