Springfield, Ill. – After last week in the General Assembly, it is becoming clear that redistricting reform in Illinois is unlikely to advance in 2010, said State Senator Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry).  The defeat of both a bipartisan reform plan and a strictly partisan amendment that many felt would have made things worse rather than better virtually guaranteed that the General Assembly will not address gerrymandering reform before the next 10-year plan is adopted.

On Thursday, Republican House of Representative members stood with a broad coalition of government reform groups and most editorial writers in the state in opposition to SJRCA 121. The measure, which had been previously pushed out of the Senate on a straight partisan roll call, retained the major flaw of allowing politicians to draw their own districts and essentially pick their own voters. They were joined by one Democrat member of the House in rejecting the proposal.

Over the past year, redistricting reform has been the subject of a number of hearings across the state by a Senate panel. At those hearings, a consistent demand from witnesses, experts and reform groups was that the process of drawing legislative districts should be handed over to a non-partisan, independent body.

Republican lawmakers have embraced the non-partisan recommendation and support a plan drafted by the League of Women Voters of Illinois and supported by a broad coalition of reform organizations. Members of Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Reform Commission were also onboard with the League’s proposal.

Not unlike the Senate Democrat majority, earlier in the week the House Democrats rejected the bipartisan reform plan that would have turned the drawing of legislative districts over to an independent commission. Then later on Thursday, the proponents of an independent petition drive in support of the bipartisan redistricting plan acknowledged they would be unable to reach the state’s extremely high demands for getting their proposal on the ballot.

With SJRCA 121 failing to pass the General Assembly, repeated dismissal of bipartisan reform plans by the Democratic majorities, and the independent petition drive falling short of getting its proposal on the ballot, it appears redistricting reform may have been stymied in 2010.  

Passing the General Assembly last week, however, was a bill that takes aim at unlawful uses of a firearm.  The goal of House Bill 5832 is to target the rampant gun violence that is plaguing the City of Chicago, by increasing penalties for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Sen. Althoff stressed that the legislation does not infringe on an individual’s Second Amendment rights, as this law would only impact individuals who do not possess a valid Firearm Operators Identification (FOID) Card and who are caught carrying a loaded, uncased weapon on the street. The penalties would also apply to those who are caught in possession of an unloaded, uncased firearm with ammunition accessible if they do not have a valid FOID card.

House Bill 5832 requires mandatory imprisonment for one to three years for an individual who is 18 years or older, who does not have a valid FOID card, and who possessed a loaded and uncased firearm. The penalties would also apply to those who are caught in possession of an unloaded, uncased firearm with ammunition accessible if they do not have a valid FOID card.

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis recently came to Springfield to testify in favor of the bill, saying that the measure will have a positive impact on controlling gun crime in the City of Chicago, particularly with respect to the increase in gun violence that has many Chicago residents concerned—and afraid.

Currently, individuals convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon could see one to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine. However, until House Bill 5832 is signed into law, imprisonment is not mandatory for individuals convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Also passing the Senate last week, House Bill 5109 bans the use of State funds to create a portrait or other image of any person who was removed from the office of Governor by impeachment and conviction. Though controversial, after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment and removal, many lawmakers believe that the state should not be responsible for financing the official portrait of any governor who is forced to leave his or position, either by impeachment or conviction.

Sen. Althoff explained that the bill does not ban a portrait from being displayed in the Capitol altogether; the state simply wouldn’t finance the portrait.  The cost of an official portrait is estimated at $25,000. It will be left for a private entity to finance Blagojevich’s portrait, if Governor Quinn signs the bill.

 

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