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Jen Riva, legislative aide to state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) answers a call from the senator Friday morning in Rezin’s Peru office. Riva and the other legislative aides have answered a sea of calls, emails and meeting requests from constituents concerned with bills awaiting votes in the Illinois General Assembly, which reconvenes Monday. The list of issues awaiting votes includes gun control and pensions, both of which have generated thousands of constituent emails to Rezin’s office alone.
Colorado and Washington state legalized medical marijuana last year. Will Illinois be next in 2013? State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said it’s a real possibility. The Illinois General Assembly reconvenes Monday and one of the bills up for a vote next week is House Bill 1, which would legalize medicinal cannabis. Supporters can count Mautino out — he’s opposed it before and won’t budge — but he said there’s a 50-50 chance it will survive a pending House vote. “It is very close to passage,” he said, noting bill sponsor Lou Lang is approaching the needed 60 votes. Local law enforcement officers oppose medical marijuana, citing anecdotal evidence that programs in other states have been abused and that there are medical alternatives to smoking cannabis. “I continue to believe there would not be sufficient control over its issuance and would not be used exclusively by patients who would receive medicinal benefits,” said Brian Towne, La Salle County state’s attorney. “I continue to believe there are other avenues of pain relief including a pill form of marijuana which does not produce that same euphoric high effect.” Nevertheless, votes to adopt regulated cannabis could be in the cards — along with gun control, pension reform and same-sex marriage. Mautino and state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) both agreed there could be sweeping legislation coming out of the upcoming session, thanks in part to a Democratic majority — a “very liberal supermajority,” as Rezin put it — that could result in swift movement on the floor. In the case of pension reform, both Rezin and Mautino acknowledge there is a real chance the state will adopt meaningful reform to ensure the state can meet at least some of its pension obligation. As Rezin put it, the issue will be enacting substantive reform that protects current retirees while meeting the goal of 100 percent funding within 30 years — and ensuring that the final package survives court challenges. Mautino said he thinks Springfield is close. Three of five proposed measures have passed and the next hurdle will be settling employee contributions. At issue is whether to impose 3-percent or 2-percent contributions, either of which would be phased in. Altogether, the measures could save $1.8 billion in next year’s budget and reduce the state’s un-funded liability by up to $25 billion. “It’s a big, big piece,” Mautino said of the employee contributions. “I think we’ll get a deal with the final bill. That’s my hope.” Both legislators say the General Assembly will act with a sense of urgency. Rezin said her office tabulated the emails urging her to fix the pension crisis and counted more than 5,000, many from retirees who worry for their livelihoods. Rezin said her office is also getting swamped with calls about gun control, an issue that has gained momentum from Chicago firearm deaths as well as mass murders such as the Newtown, Conn. school massacre. Anticipating the fate of a sweeping array of gun bills is tricky, however, because the votes will not necessarily fall along party lines. Democratic lawmakers from downstate will likely join ranks with the pro-gun GOP, while a few Republicans from the Chicago suburbs will heed constituent calls to reign in gun violence in the nearby Windy City. “This will be a Chicago-downstate question,” she said. Then there’s same-sex marriage. Senate Bill 10 narrowly passed the Senate (Rezin voted against it) and would seem to face easy passage in a House where Democrats hold a 24-seat majority. Not so fast, Mautino said. The African-American caucus faces intense pressure to oppose Senate Bill 10 from clergy in Chicago and Metro East. He said bill sponsor Greg Harris (D-Chicago) was 12 votes short a few weeks ago and remained short as of Tuesday. Mautino said SB 10 wasn’t on the upcoming docket and might not get called unless Harris can shore up the votes. Rezin said she shared that assessment but also noted the issue could get called before the year is out. Late-session vote bartering could push a few opponents to support the measure. “My guess is they will call it toward the end of the session,” she said, “when there’d be a lot of back-and-forth negotiations on certain bills.”