Wednesday began a new term for members of the 98th General Assembly in Illinois. In all, 119 house representatives and 58 senators were inaugurated at the Illinois State Capitol.
The legislature left a number of hot-button issues hanging in the balance at the recent close of the lame-duck session including on pension reform, a possible assault-weapons ban and gay-marriage legislation.
They can now cross off the issue of illegal immigrants obtaining a driver's license off their to-do list.
The bill passed Tuesday will allow an estimated 250,000 illegal immigrants of driving age in Illinois to get driver's licenses. The licenses would not be used for identification purposes like to board a plane. Anyone who applies will have to take driver's tests, prove Illinois residency and have a picture taken that would go into a state database.
Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, and Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, weighed in on the legislation.
Driver's Licenses for Illegal Immigrants
"I think everyone needs to acknowledge, maybe they don't, but there are individuals that are driving on the roads right now who do not have licenses because they're undocumented," Sullivan said. "From a safety standpoint, it's going to ensure our roads are safer and that's why I supported it."
"I think this bill will create more problems than it will ever hope to solve," Tracy said. "It's saying it'll make our roads safer. It did not include fingerprinting. We do not have a method of tracking illegals and who's to say they can't have a lot of other traffic infractions and come to this state, get a drivers license under this new law and they're not safe drivers."
Washington and New Mexico also allow illegal immigrants to get licenses.
Assault Weapons Ban
A new term means new legislation for issues left unresolved in the last general assembly.
Illinois residents have kept a close watch on the assault weapons ban as well as legislation limiting the number of rounds in a magazine. Both pieces of legislation gained national attention after the Illinois Appeals Court declared the state's ban on concealed carry unconstitutional. Days later, the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting occurred causing many lawmakers to reconsider their decisions.
"It's really an unusual situation. We have the courts on one hand telling us we need to allow concealed carry here in Illinois, which is an expansion of gun rights. On the other hand, we have this ongoing debate about the assault weapons ban. So, an unusual situation, but now we're going to have the opportunity to take both of those issues and have a thorough debate," Sullivan said.
Tracy says she was relieved to see the assault weapons ban get pulled from a committee vote. She says the bill was very broad and took away the protection of U.S. citizens.
"I fully support our second amendment right of the constitution," Tracy said. "I think it's very clear. But I also believe that mental health issues and violence are what have led to the horrific assaults on children and public citizens and that gun control is not the answer to curbing that type of violence."
Illinois Pension Plan
The Illinois legislature is back to square one in regards to a pension plan.
Both Tracy and Sullivan say the state's $96 billion pension deficit has snow-balled out of control.
"Medicaid and pensions are looming over us as a huge obligation funding that we have, and it squeezes out all the government services," Tracy said. "So, I think we're going to be looking at ways we can further cut abuse and services out of Medicaid as much as possible. We have 10 years of underfunding that's led to this crisis and it is a crisis and we can't make up the money that was not put in. It's just too insurmountable at this point."
"Doing nothing is not an option. We have to come up with a solution. If we don't, the rising cost of pension payments is going to eat up in a very short period of time, over a third of our general revenue funds," Sullivan said. "That means it just doesn't leave any money for anything else. So we have to bring that annual pension contribution payment down to what's sustainable and works with the budget."
Governor Pat Quinn hoped the House would OK a bill reducing the state's financial burden through greater employee contributions and less-generous benefits. But it never came up for a vote.