Senate week in review       Send a link to a friend 

March 14-18

[MARCH 21, 2005]  SPRINGFIELD -- Roadblocks to medical malpractice reform, a question of state-funded stem cell research and an expansion of gambling were all part of a tumultuous week of Senate action capped by a stunning display of political gamesmanship, according to state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.

Senators were able to take a few minutes out of a busy committee schedule during the week to greet hundreds of young people who filled the halls of the Capitol. On March 15 and 16, members of FFA chapters and 4-H groups from around the state came to Springfield to tell lawmakers about the importance of agriculture, agricultural education and agribusiness.

The break from partisan maneuvering was brief, however. On March 17, Senate Democratic leaders reneged on a promise to allow a vote on comprehensive medical malpractice reform legislation aimed at keeping doctors in Illinois, Brady said.

Despite strong opposition by members of the Senate Republican Caucus, the Senate Democratic leadership moved Senate Bill 150 from the Judiciary Committee, which was expected to vote on the bill March 17, to the highly political Executive Committee, where the future of the legislation is bleak.

Brady said the action by Senate Democratic leaders shows that they value politics over what is best for the citizens of Illinois, but the fight is far from over. He pledged to keep pushing for meaningful medical malpractice reform that includes legal reforms, medical reforms and insurance reforms. Republican lawmakers are demanding a vote on the legislation in the full Senate.

In other business, stem-cell research legislation was passed by the Health and Human Services Committee, despite opposition by Republican members of the committee. Senate Bill 2100 allows the state to issue $1 billion in bonds to fund adult and embryonic stem cell research. The proposal calls for the state to recoup the money by imposing a 6 percent tax on voluntary, unnecessary plastic surgery. Opponents question the ability of the state and insurance companies to distinguish what is "necessary" plastic surgery. Opponents also cited statistics showing that in states that enacted similar legislation, the revenue actually produced from taxing plastic surgeons was severely overestimated.

A proposal for a land-based casino owned by the city of Chicago was approved by a partisan vote of the Senate Executive Committee. Senate Bill 19 establishes a 4,000-position casino in Chicago and adds two new riverboat gambling licenses for Waukegan and a location in the south suburbs. Existing riverboats will also be allowed to expand their gaming positions from 1,200 to 2,000.

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Also, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee continued to hear testimony March 15 about the Illinois Telecom Act, which is set to expire this summer. Some groups want minor changes made to the current act because the Federal Communications Commission is changing its rules and regulations concerning telecom law. Others argue that the state act should be completely revised and new regulations added to existing companies. Still others argue that the companies should be completely deregulated because the cable industry and utilities have no regulations concerning their entry into wireless phone sales.

Other bills passed by Senate committees last week:

"Truth in pumping" (SB 532) -- Requires motor fuel retailers to post a copy of an Illinois Department of Revenue breakdown of the federal, state and local taxes that are being charged with every gallon of gas purchased.

P.E. waivers (SB 1972) -- Allows a school board to excuse pupils in grades 9 through 12 from engaging in physical education courses if the pupil is getting substantial exercise from participating in an athletic activity outside of school and if a parent or guardian of the pupil documents the activity.

Illinois Colonels (SB 1776) -- Creates an honorary regiment of Illinois Colonels, to be known as the Governorís Regiment, within the Department of Military Affairs. Allows the governor to appoint individuals whose accomplishments, achievements or service have contributed to the fellowship and good will of the state of Illinois.

Prompt payment (SB 1654) -- Prohibits state agencies from delaying the submission of bills to the state comptroller, to help provide state officials with a more accurate assessment of how much money the state owes vendors.

Revenue reports (SB 1935) -- Requires the Illinois Department of Revenue to publish a timely annual report to help Illinois officials trying to hammer out a new state budget.

Military bases (SJR 18) -- Urges the U.S. Department of Defense and the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to save Rock Island Arsenal, Peoria Air National Guard Base, Springfield National Guard Base and Scott Air Force Base from closure because of their military and local value.

[Illinois Senate Republican Caucus news release]

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