First big override fails in Illinois House

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ILLINOIS CAPITOL
ILLINOIS CAPITOL

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – Before Thanksgiving, as the Illinois Senate was busy overriding vetos made by Gov. Bruce Rauner, everyone knew the story would come in the House, where an override is harder to accomplish.

Sure enough, one of Labor’s preferred bills went down to defeat, falling short by four votes in the House of overriding Rauner’s veto.

Senate Bill 250 was to provide automatic voter registration for people doing business in state offices such as driver’s license offices. Sponsors expected it to generate some two million new voters, and it was designed to eliminate redundant paperwork, streamline government functions, clean up voter rolls and save tens of millions of dollars over time.

Still pending as the Legislature went home for the Thanksgiving holiday, were override attempts on Labor-backed bills to protect the prevailing wage system and give some state workers much-needed raises. Legislators will continue the veto session in January.

BIG FLIP-FLOP

Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), sponsor of the voter bill, noted that after months of detailed negotiations, it passed the House and Senate by wide, bipartisan margins and that Rauner had said he would support it.

“The governor was for it. He indicated his support for the bill verbally to me and to others,” Manar told the Labor Tribune in an interview. “Fast forward, and the governor issued a veto instead. It was a dramatic flip-flop.

“I think that is more evidence of what is happening there every day – the governor bought more than just campaign ads in November,” he added.

Overriding the veto was no problem in the Senate, where Democrats have a clear, veto-proof majority, but the House was a different story. Technically, Democrats have a veto-proof majority, but they need every one of their members to make it stick.

That has been difficult during Rauner’s term because of absences and a couple of Democrats who seem to enjoy foiling their own party’s agenda.

So, as many expected, the override failed in the House, needing 71 votes but gaining only 67 – even though 86 House members voted for it in the first place.

KNUCKLED UNDER

How could that happen? The biggest problem was that 13 Republicans who had voted for the bill knuckled under to Rauner and voted against the override. Two other Republicans changed from “Not Voting” to “No.”

But that wasn’t enough to kill the override. It also took two Democrats changing their votes from “Yes” to “Not Voting” – Sonya Harper of Chicago and Anthony DeLuca of Chicago Heights – plus two other Democrats on excused absences – Pamela Reaves-Harris and Andre Thapedi, both of Chicago.

The two Democrats known for foiling past override attempts, Ken Dunkin of Chicago and Jack Frank of upstate Marengo, stayed with the party on this one.

Dunkin’s previous votes were enough for the party to run a challenger and defeat him in the primary, so this was one of his last votes in the Legislature. Frank is leaving under his own steam.

MODERN VOTING

In calling for the override, Manar said Rauner’s stated concerns about fraud were just politics.

“No amount of disproven right-wing conspiracy theories about voter fraud and illegal immigrants flooding the polls change the fact that voters and taxpayers expect their government to work for them, not the other way around,” he said.

“Illinois’ early voting and same-day voter registration figures are proof that people want to participate at the ballot box, and they want to do so in a way that is modern, convenient and as simple as possible. Why shouldn’t we make that happen for them?”

The registrations would occur in the Secretary of State Driver Services and Vehicle Services departments and these departments: Human Services, Healthcare & Family Services, Aging and Employment Security. Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont and Connecticut have already adopted similar plans.

Remaining to be seen were three other Labor-supported override attempts, all passed in the Senate and awaiting House action:

  • SB 2964 would improve the way prevailing wages are determined by local officials and protect against administration attempts to undercut them.
  • SB 2536 and SB 2931 would provide much-needed pay raises to the state’s child-care and home health care workers.

PREVAILING WAGE

The Rauner administration has delayed attempts to update prevailing wage levels for a year and a half. They affect construction workers on publicly funded projects.

The bill, sponsored by Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, would have the wage rates based on collective bargaining agreements when at least 30 percent of those in a particular trade or occupation are under a collectively bargained contract. That would strengthen the workers’ position in the setting of the wages.

Rauner vetoed the bill over the summer and the Senate overrode the veto, again leaving it up to the House. When it passed the House in May, 72 members voted for it, and it now needs 71 to override the veto.

STATE WORKERS

Over-riding the child care and home health-care vetos would boost both groups of workers to at least $15 an hour, with required orientation and training and better health insurance. The workers have gone 19 months without a contract.

“The working families of Illinois who rely on affordable child care to have a shot in this economy and the people with disabilities who rely on home health care to remain in their homes and communities can be grateful to the Senators who stood up to Bruce Rauner’s attack on their gateway to economic opportunity and to their welfare and peace of mind,” said Keith Kelleher, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, after the Senate vote.

“Ensuring that state child care and home health care workers receive adequate training and health insurance – not to mention an actual living wage – is an important step and also is a matter of justice for a workforce constituted primarily of women and people of color.”

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Energy bill passes without Illinois coal protections

Springfield, IL – As the electrical utility Exelon developed legislation to keep two Illinois nuclear plants open, protections for southern Illinois coal-burning plants were an important part of the equation.

But by the time the bill passed the House and Senate on Thursday, nothing was left in it for coal plant workers, nor for coal miners.

The legislation, often described as “massive” and “complicated,” went through constant changes in the days before the vote. Coal-related measures were jettisoned in part to keep environmentalists on board.

The plus side is that hundreds of nuclear plant workers will keep their union jobs at the Clinton and Quad-Cities plants.

“That is a clear plus,” said Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). “Those are IBEW jobs, good-paying, middle-class union jobs. We need more of those, not less.”

Manar and Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) had worked to add language to the bill encouraging clean use of Illinois coal.

“Our coal burns hotter, and we have the technology today to scrub it or put it in a sequestration project. But Exelon doesn’t want that competition,” Manar said.

RUSH FOR SUPPORT

For a time, the bill included language that could have halted plans to shut down coal-burning units at the Newton and Baldwin power plants, but that was removed in the rush to win support for the nuclear plants.

So the coal plants remain in an untenable financial squeeze in which they must compete for sales with plants outside of Illinois that have lower regulatory costs. Legislation to correct that problem by establishing a unified electric power market in the state remains in limbo at best.

Manar said it could be hard to address coal-related issues now that the nuclear energy bill is moving toward the expected governor’s signature.

“I’m not giving up, but it’s going to be difficult because these types of energy bills, where you have a major realignment, only come along so often – and this was the one,” he said.

Consumer groups and manufacturers that rely on the nuclear plants continue to oppose the bill on grounds that it will increase electric rates in generating another $235 million a year. Exelon claimed customer increases would be limited to 25 cents a month while opponents said it would be more like $4.50, while industry spokesmen said the higher costs would eliminate manufacturing jobs.

Plans to spend $400 million a year on energy efficiency won the bill support from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which said that effort will create new jobs in solar and wind energy.

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