Miller: Cullerton, cohorts stumble badly in state Senate
By Rich Miller January 6, 2013 3:38PM
Updated: February 8, 2013 6:17AM
Thursday was not exactly a banner day for the Illinois Senate Democratic leadership. In high-profile moves, its attempts to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage stalled as did bills on gun control.
Even a much-needed spending bill was unable to move out of committee. Pension reform went nowhere. The biggest winners were cigarette makers, of all people.
The gay marriage bill turned out to be a dud. Opponents pointed out some serious issues with its drafting, which, for instance, appeared to mandate that facilities owned by churches or religious groups allow same-sex marriage ceremonies. Proponents denied that, but they seemed to be on some shaky ground.
The measure was moved forward at the behest of some wealthy financial backers who appeared to dictate the timing, which is never a good thing in Springfield. The bill’s supporters said three senators who were supposed to vote for the bill were not at the statehouse and that kept them from passing it.
But even if that were true, the drafting questions likely would have doomed the measure in the House. And the millionaire-funded media blitz didn’t work. Media blitzes, no matter how impressive, aren’t effective in the Legislature if the bill is flawed and the votes aren’t there.
On the positive side for the proponents, Senate Republicans remained quite civil during a committee hearing on the gay marriage bill. And Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said during the hearing that she believed a bipartisan compromise could be reached on the legislation.
Despite last week’s stumbling, it looks like legalizing gay marriage eventually could pass. But its initial failure was an avoidable embarrassment for its supporters.
Meanwhile, an intense lobbying effort by gun-rights groups and a serious overreach by proponents derailed two gun control bills. The pro-gun groups claimed the bills would result in a ban on a vast array of commonly used weapons and would unconstitutionally restrict gun owners’ rights.
The legislation clearly was doomed as written, and even some gun control lobbyists were less than enthused about the task they were handed.
A prominent gun control senator said privately that some aspects of the legislation were so broadly written that they would have to be removed if there were any hope of passage in the future. He said he was not involved in the bill drafting and didn’t know who was.
As a result, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), a staunch gun opponent, said last week that he would “absolutely” work with gun-rights groups on a compromise, which includes a federal appeals court mandate to pass a concealed-carry law. But Cullerton could be negotiating from weakness, now that his attempts to ram through sweeping gun control provisions have failed.
A bill containing state spending authorization for construction, new caseworkers for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, workers compensation claims and education grants went nowhere after a revolt by some legislators, mainly members of the Black Caucus.
Caucus members withheld their votes because a bill by Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) to set up a revolving loan program for minority road contractors has gone nowhere in the House.
Last year, when the state hiked its cigarette tax by almost $1 a pack, the tobacco industry cut a deal to pass a bill that limited appeal bonds. Now, state law mandates that bonds be posted equal to 11/2 times a judgment in certain civil cases before a ruling can be appealed.
That resulted in a required $12 billion appeal bond years ago when Philip Morris lost a case involving Marlboro Lights. That bond was lowered after negotiations, but the company has been fighting ever since to get into law a lower bond requirement.
The House passed a bill last year, but Cullerton, a visceral anti-tobacco legislator, bottled it up in the Senate. But it passed last week after the trial lawyers were given a neat little plum that guarantees them higher contingency fees in big medical malpractice cases.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.