Thursday, January 03, 2013

Gay marriage and gun control bills struggle in the Senate

Gun control measures and legislation to legalize same-sex marriage both stalled in the Senate today because they lacked the support to pass on a floor vote.

Same-Sex Marriage
By Meredith Colias

The Senate sponsor of a bill legalizing gay marriage said she hoped it could come up for a floor vote as soon as Tuesday. However, Senate President John Cullerton said such a vote would be unlikely.

Sen. Heather Steans, a Democrat from Chicago, said supporters of House Bill 4963 were not present today to cast their votes on the floor. The measure was approved by a Senate Committee, but Cullerton said Steans would not get another crack at passing same-sex marriage legislation unless it is first approved by the House, which is scheduled to start its lame-duck session on Sunday. “Maybe we will see you next Tuesday. I would once again reiterate that it’s not likely, but there’s that outside possibility because the House will be in session,” Cullerton told members when the Senate adjourned tonight. The Senate session scheduled for tomorrow has been canceled.

Steans told the committee that her proposal would provide “a basic civil right” to gay couples, while allowing exemptions to protect religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

Springfield Roman Catholic Bishop John Paprocki said the measure “would radically redefine what marriage is for everyone” and would not do enough to protect religious institutions that oppose same sex marriage. Opponents questioned language in the bill they believed would require religious institutions to rent out their facilities to gay couples against their wishes. “The consequences of redefining marriage will be broader based,” Paprocki said .

Steans said the measure would require religious institutions to treat everyone equally when renting out certain facilities that are available to the public but would not require them to marry gay couples or let them use the sanctuary. Steans said such protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation were already part of other laws.

Ralph Rivera of the Illinois Family Institute said that he and others would oppose the bill on principle regardless of the exemptions it contained. But he said legislation approved in committee today was “not about gay marriage. It’s about forcing the church to accept it or be punished.”

Other religious leaders spoke in favor of the bill. Rev. Vernice Thorn of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago said her support for gay marriage drew from her own religious beliefs. “I believe this to be a justice issue, but I also believe … it’s a faith issue.”

Although no Republicans on the committee voted in favor of sending the bill to a floor vote, Senate Majority Leader Christine Radogno said it had the “potential for bipartisanship” if Steans were willing to do more to protect religious groups that “truly believe this is not the right thing to do.” Steans said she was open to meeting with opponents to try to work out a compromise on the religious protections in her proposal.

Gun Control

By Jamey Dunn

Advocates for two gun control proposals were also disappointed today in the Senate.

House Bill 1263, which would ban several types of assault weapons, including semi-automatic firearms and high-caliber rifles, and HB 815, which would outlaw ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, were not called for floor votes today because Democratic leaders said they did not have the support to pass. “I think it’s just an issue of some of the people who would be voting for the bill are not present today,” said Park Ridge Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski, who sponsors HB815.

“It is clear that we will need bipartisan support in order to take floor votes on gun safety and marriage equality this week. We will take some time to work on these important issues to advance them in the near future,” Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, said this afternoon in a prepared statement.

“I think people are generally supportive of the concept [of the high-capacity magazine ban],” Kotowski said. “There’s a couple areas that they need to be educated about — the components of the bill. And once they are, they are usually OK.”

Opponents say that both bans would trample on the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Todd Vandermyde, chief Illinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the bans would outlaw “components and parts of some of the most commonly used firearms in the country.”

Gov. Pat Quinn has been vocally pushing for both measures since a mass shooting in a Colorado theater last summer. “We’re pleased to see progress being made on both fronts,” Brooke Anderson, a Quinn spokeswoman, said about Senate committees approving both gun bans as well as a bill to legalize same sex marriage. She said of the gun control measures specifically, “As the governor has made clear, this is something that we are going to vigorously pursue this year, and we’re going to continue work on it.”

Sen. Heather Steans’ bill to legalize same sex marriage passed in a committee today, but she saw another Senate panel reject a plan to approve additional spending for construction and the Department of Children and Family Services. The plan would have reallocated money from Quinn’s vetoes and allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to spend unused state and federal funds.

However, the measure would also draw from money from the sale of the state’s 10th casino license that was promised to horse racing tracks in 1999. Steve Brubaker, a lobbyist for the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, said the money is supposed to be spent on purse races and operations at the state’s tracks. “This is certainly a departure from what we thought the money was going to be used for. We thought we would have access to that revenue.”

McHenry Republican Sen. Pamela Althoff said the capital projects, which include school construction, are worthwhile. But she said lawmakers have to stop tapping into funds that have been committed elsewhere each time the need for new spending arises. “I just think it’s inappropriate to break our word once again when we made those promises.”

Kotowski, who also worked on the budget deal, was not willing to concede that it or his gun control measure would have to wait until a new legislature is seated next Wednesday. “I think we’re just going to see what we can do. ... We may have an opportunity to get something done on Tuesday, but we’ll see.” But Cullerton put a damper on hopes that the Senate will be back before the current legislative session ends next week. He said that the Senate might meet again on Tuesday, but only if the House, which begins its lame-duck session on Sunday, approves legislation that the Senate needs to consider. “I don’t anticipate that, but it’s possible,” Cullerton said. He said lawmakers could continue to work on same-sex marriage and gun control issues in the new legislative session.

Cullerton said of the Senate’s lame-duck session actions, “We just really finished up the normal business that we needed to finish up.” He told lawmakers as he announced an end to work for the day, “We still have tremendous challenges to face in the next session.”

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