The latest state budget crisis has settled down, at least for a little while. Now Gov. Pat Quinn can turn his attention to that big pile on his desk. The governor still has well more than 700 bills to consider that lawmakers sent him this spring, covering everything from major issues to local disputes.
The latest state budget crisis has settled down, at least for a little while. Now Gov. Pat Quinn can turn his attention to that big pile on his desk.
The governor still has well more than 700 bills to consider that lawmakers sent him this spring, covering everything from major issues to local disputes.
The bill signing process is usually mostly wrapped up by mid-August. But the prolonged budget dispute delayed lawmakers sending him many bills, so it could be nearly Labor Day before they're all resolved.
The governor's office isn't saying how quickly he'll be dealing with bills, or which ones he'll sign or veto.
"He's reviewing these bills," Quinn spokeswoman Marlena Jentz said Friday.
Here is a look at the key bills waiting for action.
In the wake of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest and impeachment on corruption charges, lawmakers were pressured to corral the influence of money on state officials.
Their solution in House Bill 7 was to cap campaign contributions in several ways, from how much individuals and interest groups can give each year to how much money political committees can transfer to each other.
But immediately, reform groups complained the reform was a sham. The limits were too high and had too many loopholes, they said. They've urged Quinn, who supported the measure, to veto it outright or make changes to strengthen it.
Senate Democrats recently sat down with advocates to talk about changes, as the measure won't take effect until January 2011. There's no consensus but a willingness to go further, both sides say.
Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, hopes the governor signs the bill and changes can be made in a followup measure.
Those changes include shifting caps from a calendar year to an entire election cycle – which could be two or four years, depending on the office – and changing rules for new committees that help legislators pay for constituent services back home. Harmon also wants to consider requiring more frequent reporting of contributions.
"I don't believe it will advance unless there is support from all the stakeholders," Harmon said. "I'd hate to jeopardize what we've done to this point. We've got plenty of time."
Change Illinois, an umbrella group of reform advocates, says it supports the governor or lawmakers making the measure stronger, however that happens.
"We clearly are willing to be flexible on everything, just about, as long as they are," spokesman Jim Bray said. "I don't think we could come up with anything worse."
Lawmakers approved rewriting the state's Freedom of Information Act to reduce abuses by public bodies who refuse to hand over public documents.
The rewrite, headed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office after talks with media and governmental groups, tries to give public officials clearer guidelines on how to handle records' requests.
It also gives Madigan's office much more power to mediate document disputes through its public access counselor. Instead of facing long delays and denials that go unpunished, record seekers can ask Madigan's office to press for disclosure.
Madigan's office expects Quinn to sign Senate Bill 189.
Cara Smith, Madigan's deputy chief of staff, said already her office is making preparations for staff to handle a greater workload and to train officials throughout the state on the new law and how they should handle document requests. She said that training will be key to ensure consistency everywhere.
"We're certainly committed to being the resource and trying to help the process as much as we can," Smith said.
Behind the wheel
Several measures are aimed at the popular topic of driver safety.
Two bills take on the multitasker. House Bill 71 bars drivers from sending text messages behind the wheel, while House Bill 72 makes cell phone use illegal for drivers in work and school zones.
Both measures easily passed the legislature, although some critics said they were going too far in government regulation.
Rep. John D'Amico, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored both ideas, said he expects the governor to sign the measures soon. He said he doesn't understand why some lawmakers opposed them, given the growing problem of distracted driving.
"We have to put the cell phone down when you're in the car, bottom line," D'Amico said. "It's pretty easy to tell if somebody's engaged in text messaging. I think it's easily enforced."
Truckers' big rigs are another target.
Lawmakers for the fourth time approved letting trucks travel at 65 miles per hour on rural interstates, up from 55 mph. Supporters argue it will improve safety by ensuring all vehicles are traveling the same speed and help Illinois compete with other surrounding states economically that already let trucks go faster.
Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed the idea three times before. Some lawmakers and safety experts say faster trucks will mean more accidents.
House Bill 3956 cleared both the House and Senate by wide enough margins to override a veto this year, so supporters are hopeful of their chances even if Quinn doesn't agree.
Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said he's not had any indication from the governor's office on what he plans to do with it.
"This is by far the largest majority that has ever passed it," Sullivan said.
House Bill 272 would expand random steroid testing of high school athletes from the postseason to the regular season.
Senate Bill 1753 would require state agencies to purchase American flags only made in this country.
Senate Bill 2090 would change how lawmakers get pay raises.
Senate Bill 1461 would reinstate a $100 payment to military veterans when their service ends. Quinn signed it into law late Friday, but the payment only happens when there's money in the budget for it.
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, predicts that will have to wait given the state's huge budget problem.
"Once the state gets in a little better condition, then we'll fund it," Bomke said.
Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.