Illinois legislators legalize marijuana, pass sweeping abortion bill but push past deadline on other issues including expanded gambling – Chicago Tribune
Illinois lawmakers approved a plan to legalize marijuana Friday and also passed a sweeping abortion bill and a new state budget, but they missed their deadline to adjourn and made plans to work into the weekend as debates continued over a new state budget, expanded gambling and a capital projects bill.
The Senate voted early Saturday 40-19, after the House’s bipartisan 83-35 vote, to approve a $40 billion state budget plan. The vote followed a series of meetings that included Gov. J.B. Pritzker and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.
Both chambers adjourned for the weekend after approving the budget, ensuring an overtime session.
The decision to push the spring session into overtime represented an embarrassment to Democrats who control both chambers of the General Assembly and Pritzker, whose election in November ended four years of partisan gridlock under Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
What was supposed to be the last day of the spring session was contentious and brought out tensions that had been building among Republicans over the dominance of the liberal agenda resulting from one-party Democratic rule under Pritzker. Democrats wanted GOP support on some issues to provide political cover.
The charged atmosphere in the Capitol was made clear by the reaction by rank-and-file Republicans to a state budget plan of more than 1,500 pages that was crafted by a group of legislators behind closed doors. The document was plopped on lawmakers’ desks midmorning Friday, just hours before the General Assembly was scheduled to adjourn for the summer.
“The process here is horrific,” Republican Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville said during an afternoon budget hearing that lasted more than three hours. “We should all be embarrassed by this process.”
Democrats criticized Republicans for drawn-out speeches and accused them of trying to stall the process until after midnight. After May 31, the rules require that three-fifths of lawmakers in each chamber are needed to pass legislation with an immediate effective date, rather than a simple majority.
Rep. Rob Martwick, D-Chicago, said Republicans “have this sense that well, you could have done this stuff earlier. That’s not true. The way the process works is whittle this down, you negotiate it, you get to a point and you throw it on the board and you hope you have the votes at that last minute. So they’re the ones that are sort of delaying everything.”
Legislative action began moving quickly late Friday — but too late to finish by the deadline — after hours of negotiations among Pritzker and the four Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. Republicans sought concessions from Pritzker aimed at helping the business community in future legislation and apparently got them as the $40 billion budget passed in the House with bipartisan support.
“I am very glad these matters are being taken into consideration,” said Durkin, the Republican leader from Western Springs, citing several business credits and tax incentives in the plan. “Tonight is the start of us finishing up this year working on a budget that is balanced and fair to Illinoisans.”
Durkin’s deputy, state Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, said on the House floor that he thought “we can come to a fair compromise” in coming days.
Still pending for the weekend was action scheduled on budget-related bills that could include those GOP-sought changes to aid business, as well as Pritzker-backed plans for a massive public works construction program and legalized sports betting, which became the centerpiece of a plan to significantly expand gambling.
The three-hour debate over legalizing marijuana, part of the “think big” agenda Pritzker campaigned on, was an early sign of how slowly things would move in Springfield most of Friday. After the 66-47 House vote, the governor issued a statement in which he promised to sign a bill that he said offers “the most equity-centric approach in the nation.”
“This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance,” Pritzker said in his statement.
With the governor’s signature, Illinois would become the first state to create a commercial recreational marijuana industry through the legislature rather than by voter initiative.
The bill takes effect Jan. 1 and would allow residents age 21 and older to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product. Nonresidents could possess 15 grams of cannabis. It also would create a licensed cultivation and dispensary system, and it would direct Pritzker to use his power to pardon people convicted of low-level marijuana possession in the past.
Opponents raised concerns that the bill will increase teen use of marijuana and result in more people driving while high, as well as health concerns.
“If this bill passes, a giant, big-money industry will commercialize another harmful, addictive drug in our state,” said Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat and outspoken opponent of legalization.
Legalizing marijuana is expected to generate $57 million in general revenue in the coming budget year and $30 million for a cannabis business development fund. That’s far less than the $170 million Pritzker projected in his spending plan, but budget negotiators have said they aren’t counting on any of that revenue.
Late Friday, the Senate voted 34-20 to send Pritzker a sweeping abortion rights bill previously passed by the House amid an increased sense of urgency among proponents to pass a law to protect access to the procedure as other states have passed laws essentially banning the practice.