Political Rewind: Guns, Animals and Cell Phones in Illinois
It's always good to be caught up on state politics. Here's an easy guide to what happened this week.
Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Statehouse News that were written by various Illinois Statehouse News reporters.
Friday was the deadline for lawmakers to get their legislation heard before, and voted out of, committee.
Bill sponsor: Concealed carry ‘long overdue’
Once again downstate lawmakers pushed to legalize the concealed carry of firearms in Illinois, the last state in the nation where some form of carry, concealed or open, is not legal.
House Bill 5745 would allow sheriffs in the state’s 102 counties to issue concealed-carry permits. People wanting a permit would have to pay a $65 fee and complete firearms training. No one with a criminal record would be given a permit.
To approve this bill would require 71 votes in the House, instead of a simple majority of 60 votes. Because lawmakers decided that a statewide concealed-carry law would pre-empt local laws, the bill would require three-fifths of the chamber to pass it.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, is sponsoring the legislation, which passed out of the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee on Tuesday.
Concealed-carry legislation has been a perennial failure in the statehouse, but Phelps said Wisconsin’s decision to approve concealed carry last year is putting pressure on Illinois.
“It’s long overdue … We’re very close. We’re not going to give up,” Phelps said.
Colleges and universities in the state have been pushing back against the legislation, which allows them to opt out, but then be liable for anyone who is injured during an attack that a concealed gun might have prevented.
House passes ban on using cell phones while driving
Hoping to limit the problem of distracted driving, the Illinois House passed a bill banning hand-held cell phone use while driving, in a bipartisan vote of 62-53 on Thursday.
“I remember seeing people driving with a coffee and doughnut in each hand and steering with their knees,” said state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, who voted for the bill. “There are distractions everywhere, but cell phones have become so pervasive. It’s clearly a public safety issue.”
House Bill 3972 makes hand-held cell phone use while driving a “moving violation,” carrying with it a $75 ticket. Using speakerphones and wireless headsets would be permitted, and there are exceptions for emergency vehicles and law enforcement.
The push for the ban comes after the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, a federal advisory agency, in December recommended banning all cell phone use while driving, including hands free talking — although no state has gone that far.
Illinois is one 35 states that bans text messaging while driving, according to the NTSB, and if the House bill becomes law, Illinois would join nine other states banning hand-held cell phone use.
Amid efforts to curb distracted driving, some have questioned whether cell phones are a cause or symptom of distraction.
State Sen. John Millner, R-Bloomingdale, a former police officer, said people who are driving erratically should be targeted, regardless of whether they’re using a phone.
“Some people can drive just fine while talking on the phone,” he said. “Others can’t, and they know who they are.”
Exotic animal owners could face fines
A few summers ago, in Peoria County, an elderly man walked out his front door and stepped on a 14-foot-long Burmese python, which had escaped from a nearby screened-in front porch, said Lauren Malmberg,director of the Peoria County Animal Protection Services.
The man and python escaped unscathed — the snake’s owner picked it up the next day, for a $50
redemption fee — but it wasn’t an isolated incident, said Malmberg.
“People call and say, 'Oh, so and so has a huge reptile in their basement,' and they want us to go in, raid the house and take them out," said Malmberg. “They don't know that it's legal to own them.”
Senate Bill 3264, sponsored by state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, would require that dangerous animals, such as large snakes, be kept in escape-free enclosures and be registered with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, for a $250 annual fee.
“We need a way to make sure (DNR) has the ability to control the most dangerous of the exotic animals. These animals are being sold without much oversight,” said Steans.
Exotic animal owners decried the bill as onerous and unnecessary.
Scott Smith owns All Animal Expo in Wheaton, and twice a month rents out the DuPage County Fairground, hosting vendors who sell everything from prairie dogs to pythons to iguanas and more rarely lions, tigers and bears.
“This would shut us down,” he said.
The legislation is being held in the state Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee, while Steans revises it.
General Assembly, Quinn disagree over revenue projections
The General Assembly’s revenue projection is $200 million less than Gov. Pat Quinn’s $33.9 billion projection.
Already facing a relatively smaller amount of cash to go around — this year’s budget includes a jump in the scheduled pension payments of $1 billion over last year — Quinn says the General Assembly’s figure is going to squeeze out needed services.
Revenue projections became important to the budgeting process, starting last year because of a new state law that requires the state budget to be based on projected income, not wants and needs.
State Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, warned her colleagues Wednesday that just because the state is likely going to bring in $33.7 billion, doesn’t mean the Legislature should budget it all to be spent.
“We all agree how much revenue we have to deal with. Next we have to agree how we will spend the available revenues. This is not the same as a spending plan,” Radogno said.
The Illinois House and Senate have convened until after the March 20 primary elections.