Monday, Jul 01, 2013

Capitol OutThe 2013 spring session of the Illinois legislature can be marked by what didn’t happen – redefinition of marriage.

After an unsuccessful push to redefine marriage during the lame-duck session in January, Senate lawmakers in February passed Senate Bill 10, which changes the state’s legal definition of marriage from “between a man and a woman” to “between two persons.”

The measure then narrowly passed a House committee before turning into the subject of a contentious battle for votes that lasted until May 31, the final scheduled day of the session, when the sponsor of the legislation said he would not call the bill for a vote because he lacked the 60 “yes” votes needed for passage.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois aggressively opposed the legislation through meetings with lawmakers, lobby days for parishioners at the Capitol, the distribution of an interfaith letter, and multiple other efforts outlined by our Defense of Marriage update.

However, the battle to preserve marriage is not over. Action on Senate Bill 10 can occur until the end of the current two-year General Assembly in May 2014, and most likely will resurface during the upcoming fall veto session beginning Oct. 22. Additionally, recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act and remanding California’s Proposition 8 back to a district court only add momentum to redefinition of marriage efforts.

Catholic Conference also pushes pro-life, education, social service/social justice issues

CCI spent a lot of energy on Senate Bill 10 this spring, but still found time to focus on other issues that would affect the Church’s mission.

The legislature approved a measure requiring public schools to offer comprehensive sex education in the form of House Bill 2675, but CCI obtained an amendment that exempts nonpublic schools from the requirement. CCI also sponsored Life Advocacy Days at the Capitol for each of the dioceses, as outlined in our Catholics for Life update.

A shot at funding for the Textbook Block Grant surfaced near the end of session but fizzled as lawmakers crafted the final budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013. However, CCI did fend off a costly mandate for our Catholic schools when the legislature passed Senate Bill 2178, which requires schools to provide student athletes with catastrophic insurance coverage in the amount of $3 million in aggregate benefits or five years of coverage, whichever comes first, for injuries that result in medical expenses in excess of $50,000. The requirement does not apply to nonpublic high schools that require athletes to have private insurance – a policy that our Catholic schools already follow. Read more in our Education update.

The Catholic Conference supported the passage of Senate Bill 26, which implements the requirement of the federal Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to single, childless adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. CCI's update on Social Services/Social Justice issues notes that the Conference remains concerned about the potential coverage of morally objectionable services, as well as the future cost to the state. The federal government will fund 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion until the beginning of fiscal year 2017, when it covers only 90 percent.

CCI also backed supplemental funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2013 for the Community Care Program (CCP) in the form of House Bill 207. Catholic Charities often administer CCP, which provides services to seniors that allow them to stay in their own home, as opposed to entering a nursing home.

Lawmakers also approved two juvenile justice initiatives supported by the Conference. House Bill 2404 calls for 17-year-olds to be tried in juvenile court for both misdemeanor and felony offenses, except for those youth who are transferred to adult court. Previously, 17-year-olds were tried in adult court for felony offenses. The legislature also extended the Redeploy Illinois program to areas of Cook County through House Bill 2401. The program targets juvenile offenders from committing crimes that would land them in the adult prison system.

CCI defeated legislation intended to derail the successful WIC Food Centers administered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The centers prevent fraud in the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and also provide job training, counseling and health care needs.

Lawmakers fail to pass pension reform; governor changes concealed carry legislation

Before adjourning on May 31, the legislature failed to pass legislation reforming the state’s pension systems, which tally an unfunded liability of nearly $100 billion. A bipartisan conference committee of members from both chambers has been charged with crafting pension reform legislation, and will meet throughout the summer. Illinois’ financial condition remains abysmal, with the state owing $6.1 billion in unpaid bills at the end of the fiscal year on June 30. That number is expected to grow over the coming months.

Lawmakers approved concealed carry legislation (House Bill 183) to meet a deadline ordered by a federal court, but Gov. Pat Quinn on July 2 changed the measure through an amendatory veto. Legislators will reconvene on July 9 to override the governor’s veto.