Before heading home from Springfield for our Passover/Easter break, the House of Representatives took some very significant steps toward resolving the pension debate.
The three most challenging parts of the comprehensive pension legislation put forth by Leader Tom Cross, Senator Daniel Biss and myself are (i) changes to the annual increase for retirees, (ii) an increase in the age of retirement for those currently working and (iii) a limit on the amount of the pension for higher wage earners.
Rather than vote on these as a package, the House took the unusual step of debating and voting on the component parts of the legislation one at a time. While it was not a typical process, it very much focused legislators on the enormity of the problem and the nature of the solutions. The pension plans are highly technical and complex and I believe this process was important to provide the education and clarity necessary to pass a more comprehensive plan.
The House voted with strong bipartisan majorities to adopt all three of the changes.
I anticipate that the next step in the process will be to build on those votes and construct a comprehensive plan that includes not only the benefit changes, but also an affordable and guaranteed funding plan to make sure we never fall back in to the mess we are in right now. We will also change the pension plan for all new hires to include a 401(k) style plan. All of these ideas are part of the legislation I have put forward and I will continue to advocate for their inclusion in a comprehensive bill.
While we are not there yet, the votes taken by the House clearly demonstrate a willingness to tackle this very thorny problem in a significant way and to finally come to resolution on this part of achieving fiscal stability.
Firearms & Concealed Carry
As you may know, the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion last December that Illinois’ law to prohibit concealed carry of firearms is unconstitutional. That ruling gave the Illinois General Assembly until June 9 to adopt legislation to permit concealed carry. If we fail to do so, the court said, our current statute would be unenforceable and it would be lawful to carry almost any firearm in public.
As Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I was given the responsibility of holding hearings on this emotionally charged issue. We held five hearings in Springfield and Chicago and heard a variety of views on whether and how Illinois should implement a concealed carry law. The hearings were lengthy and sometimes contentious so I am grateful for the support of the Judiciary Committee members in keeping the debate focused and civil.
The House has since taken dozens of votes on this issue. The questions we addressed included where a firearm can be carried – in a park, school, bus or train – and who is entitled to receive a permit for carrying a weapon. This is an issue that very much demonstrates the regional differences in our state and those differences were front and center during these debates.
The next steps involve reviewing the votes that were taken and putting them together in to a comprehensive package that satisfies the requirements handed to us by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Those discussions and negotiations are underway and I would look for a final package to be considered in the next four or five weeks.
The issues facing the Illinois legislature seem particularly challenging this year. I appreciate all your emails and calls to keep me informed on your views. That communication is key to my ability to provide the representation in Springfield that you deserve. Keep it up!