Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Quinn strikes out on concealed carry and pension legislation

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois became the 50th state to legalize carrying concealed firearms after lawmakers voted to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of legislation today.

Things got off to a quick start this morning as the House voted 77 to 31 to override the veto with no debate. But the Senate took its time, considering a bill that contained some of the provisions Quinn added to House Bill 183 with his veto pen. Quinn called for several changes to the bill, including banning guns in any establishment that serves alcohol, eliminating a provision that prevents home rule governments from setting future gun laws and limiting licensees to carrying one gun.

The Senate approved a bill with some of the less controversial aspects of Quinn’s veto. HB1453 would have allowed schools and other places that are listed in the bill as no-carry zones the option to forgo posting signs letting the public know that guns are not allowed. It also would have required that concealed carry licensees immediately notify police officers if they are carrying a weapon during a traffic stop or other interaction and streamlined reporting of some mental health records. Supporters called the changes reasonable. Senate President John Cullerton said that as the sponsor of the bill, he chose suggestions from Quinn that could find broad support in order to reach the three-fifths vote threshold they would need to go into effect immediately. “I wanted to see if we could make these corrections today ... and hope that we can continue to have dialogue,” he said.

However, the House rejected that bill. The sticking point seemed to be the provision that would relax the posting requirements for areas where guns are banned. Opponents argued that licensees might forget when they enter an off limits area that guns are banned there. They said a reminder in the form of a sign would help keep them from inadvertently breaking the law. “I think we’re setting up our constituents to fail” if signs are not posted, said Mundelein Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan.

Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, who worked on carry negotiations and pushed for many of the changes Quinn proposed in his veto, backed the override today. “ I support the elements offered by the governor’s amendatory veto,” he said. But he said as negotiations over the bill went on, those ideas were rejected. And he said because a federal appellate court set a deadline for lawmakers to pass a carry law, he had to accept that. “The 7th Circuit [Court] has made clear that there is no more time. We are here on July 9th [the day of the court’s deadline], and if the members of this chamber have the interest of public safety at their heart[s], they would vote to override. Because if we do not override today, at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, July 10th, there are no restrictions upon people who want to carry handguns in the public way.” Raoul laid out one of the most extreme possible scenarios if a law were not in place. “Somebody could walk into a school tomorrow, if we don’t override, at three [or] four times the intoxication level that we bar people from driving with a handgun with a 20 bullet-magazine in it and it will not be in violation of the law.”

Other proponents of an override urged lawmakers to stick to the deal that was struck on the compromise bill they approved during the spring legislative session. “It’s a very very difficult issue; people genuinely disagree on how this should be handled. I think the bill that passed respects Second Amendment rights, but it also has very reasonable restrictions in it,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

Lawmakers who support stricter gun laws said that allowing people to carry guns in places that serve alcohol is in appropriate and dangerous. “We train and we test people when they get a driver’s license and we expect them to be exemplary drivers,” said Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. “But let’s look at the statistics of how many DUIs there are, and how many people are killed because of DUI. I don’t think that was their intent when they went and got educated and trained to get that license. But it happened because alcohol and driving don’t mix.”

Others raised concerns that licensees will be able to carry as many guns and ammunition magazines as they want. “I think it’s unnecessary for an individual to have four, five six, seven unlimited weapons on them at any time,’ said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat.

Those in the pro-carry camp were in a celebratory mood today. “It's just a huge victory for Illinois gun owners and law-abiding gun owners,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, who sponsored HB 183. “It’s been a long time coming. ... This is just a good day for the law abiding gun owners being able to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

But Illinois gun owners cannot celebrate by carrying their firearms in public tomorrow. The Illinois State Police have 180 days to put a system in place and begin accepting carry applications. The standard application process is set at 90 days. A five-year license will cost $150, and licensees will be required to pass a background check and undergo 16 hours of instruction, including live-fire training at a gun range. Licensees will have to take a two- to three-hour refresher training course when they renew their licenses. Law enforcement officials have the option to object to concealed-carry applications. If in application is contested, it will go before a review board.

Phelps said today that he wants to remind everyone in the state that they must go through the legal process to carry. Despite the law, he said that people are likely already carrying weapons in Illinois. State’s attorneys in several counties across Illinois have said that they will not prosecute people with valid Firearm Owner Identification cards, who carry guns in public. “There are going to be people in Illinois ... in some of those counties that the state’s attorneys said they aren’t going to prosecute, that will be carrying — that will be carrying as of probably right now. I’ve had phone calls already [and they] said, ‘Guess what? I’m carrying.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s illegal. You’ve got to have a license.’ But they’re actually doing it.” Phelps said that the state police need the time to get the carry licensing system going, especially since the FOID card system has experienced long wait times in recent years.

While it was a good day for gun rights advocates, as Phelps put it, “It’s not a good day for the governor.” Quinn issued his veto last week and pushed for it at several high-profile events since. He has been bashing lawmakers for producing a bill that he says put politics above public safety and claiming that the public is on his side when it comes to gun control. He was clearly frustrated at a news conference after both chambers adjourned today. “Well, today was a bad day for public safety in Illinois,” he said. He said of HB 182: “It’s very, very important that we protect the people. I think the legislation ... does not do that. It has shortcomings that will lead to tragedy. That’s why I acted on the amendatory veto.” Quinn said he plans to continue to push for the changes that he put forth as separate follow-up bills.

Phelps, who does not support any of the governor’s proposals, said Quinn may have had more luck if he would have tried to pass follow-up legislation in the first place instead of issuing a veto that drastically changed a bill, which was the product of months of negotiations. “The governor grandstanded on this. He went around the whole last week trying to grandstand politically on this issue. He was wrong. He should have signed it. I think he’s probably embarrassed right now because he looks weak and he looks irrelevant.”

Quinn took another hit today as lawmakers completely ignored the deadline he had set to change public employee pension systems. Quinn gave a conference committee three weeks to work out a compromise bill, which he wanted lawmakers to vote on today. The committee did not produce a bill. Members said they needed more time to get cost savings projections from actuaries working with the state’s public employee pension systems. Quinn has been making public threats that lawmakers would face “consequences” if they did not do something “comprehensive” on pensions today. “When you don’t have your work done on time, that’s a situation where there are consequences, and there will be,” Quinn said in Chicago over the weekend. Even after both legislative chambers adjourned and members hit the road today without passing pension legislation, Quinn would not divulge what those consequences might be. “We’ll give them until midnight. I think it’s important that they have the full amount of time.”

Cullerton, who appointed three members of the committee, said today that he does not know when the group will produce legislation. “It’s going to take awhile. You have actuarial studies that you have to get back on any proposed change to a bill. And they take weeks to get, and the governor knows that. So as soon as we get an agreement, we’ll come back in, and we’ll try to pass a bill.” Rumors have been circulating around the Statehouse for days that Quinn might use his veto pen to cut money for legislative salaries out of a budget bill he has yet to sign. Quinn has approved all the other budget bills for the new fiscal year, which began on July 1. His representatives refuse to comment on the rumor, saying only that the bill is “under review.” Raoul, who is chair of the committee, dismissed Quinn’s threats today. “If he’s going to do that, he ought to look at the line item that pays his salary, as well, because he didn’t come to the conference committee meeting to participate.” Raoul invited Quinn to a committee hearing yesterday, but the governor sent a member of his staff in his place. “I think that’s a childish game of tit for tat, particularly when you know that the deadline you set is impractical.”


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