SPRINGFIELD — The curtain rises up on act two of the veto session Tuesday with lawmakers back to (maybe) tackle some of the issues that weren't really addressed the first week.
The future of a ban on flavored tobacco and vaping products will be on the line, as will consolidation of downstate police and fire pension systems.
The General Assembly also has a whole new issue to deal with if it chooses — beefing up ethics laws in the wake of the ever-widening federal investigation into activities surrounding state government.
Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he was "a little bit surprised how many bills we actually pushed out the first week." But he added that "at the end of the day, I doubt we're going to do any real big stuff if we're there for only three days."
Here's where some of the issues stand.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he is "disgusted" that state lawmakers are being caught up in federal indictments and investigations. Pritzker wants lawmakers to pass new ethics laws, but agreed that passing extensive changes during the abbreviated veto session is unlikely.
Consequently, Pritzker called for approval of a narrowly focused bill that requires lobbyists to disclose their incomes. That measure can be done now, the governor said, and more extensive ethics legislation can be passed during the spring session.
House Republicans made their own pitch for ethics bills, calling for approval of three bills, a resolution and a proposed constitutional amendment. The bills would ban lawmakers and their immediate family members from working as lobbyists, require more disclosure on economic interest forms and require disclosure of communications about contracts between lawmakers and state agencies. None of the bills has been scheduled for a hearing.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has said the legislature should duplicate what it did after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted — form a task force to develop a comprehensive agenda of ethics items.
Butler said he wishes Pritzker was more forceful in pushing ethics legislation.
"This is such a big issue right now, I would hate to see us get out of town and not come back for two months without at least taking care of this issue of a member of the General Assembly being able to be a lobbyist," he said.
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Legislation to ban flavored vaping and tobacco products was discussed during the first week of the veto session, but no action was taken. A bill to actually deal with the issue is expected to come before a hearing of the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday.
Cullerton is a major proponent of the bill, but a spokesman said the final wording of the bill is still being developed. One issue that has surfaced is whether the ban on flavored products should be extended to menthol cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Menthol cigarettes are popular among black smokers and banning their sale has been criticized as targeting a particular demographic group.
The Smoke Free Alternatives Coalition of Illinois sent a letter to Pritzker last week contending that in recent negotiations exemptions were added to the bill for menthol cigarettes and flavored chewing tobacco.
"There is no logical reason an adult who successfully quit smoking with the help of peach-flavored vaporizer should be punished while the user of flavored chewing tobacco, a more dangerous product, and menthol cigarettes, the most dangerous product of all, is given preferential treatment in the market," the letter said.
Convenience store owners have pointed out that it is already illegal for minors to obtain tobacco and vaping products, and that an outright ban will damage their businesses. Supporters of the ban believe that flavored vaping products induce underage users to take up combustible tobacco. They also believe that allowing continued sale of menthol cigarettes while banning flavored vaping products will induce people to go back to smoking.
After a Pritzker-appointed task force recommended that 641 downstate police and fire pension systems be consolidated, nothing happened. A bill to accomplish that didn't get introduced until halfway through the six-day veto session.
However, Cullerton, who agreed to sponsor the bill, acknowledged that further talks would be necessary before the legislature voted on it. While firefighters endorsed the consolidation, the police pension systems opposed it.
The talks appeared to have worked: Late Friday afternoon, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police said they now support the plan.
"After extensive talks with legislative leaders and Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office, state lawmakers have indicated they will amend legislation to consolidate police pension funds and the amendments will address our major concerns with the initial legislation," the FOP said in a statement. "The revised bill would give active and retired municipal police officers a majority on the board that will control the consolidated investments. The amended legislation would also make badly needed corrections to the unfair and flawed tiered system of pension benefits."
The FOP is referring to the Tier 2 pension system approved by lawmakers to help control pension costs. Benefits under the Tier 2 plan are lower than those in Tier 1. There are changes in the pension consolidation bill that are supposed to remove inequities in the Tier 2 plan.
However, the Civic Federation issued a paper Friday questioning if the changes in the consolidation bill will actually fix the problem or if they are needed immediately. The Federation, which supports consolidation of the pensions, also said the task force that called for the merger has never provided documentation from actuaries about the potential cost of changing the Tier 2 system.