SPRINGFIELD | Legislation to clear gang members off urban streets was derided Tuesday as too costly and problematic but got an Illinois House panel's approval after more than two hours of debate.
On a historic day for the General Assembly, which sent a gay marriage bill to Gov. Pat Quinn, lawmakers spent hours more debating the anti-violence measure and tax incentives for businesses.
Rep. Michael Zalewski's measure to slice into street violence got the Judiciary Committee's endorsement 11-4, but even fellow tough-on-guns lawmakers told the Riverside Democrat they weren't sure they could support the initiative on the House floor.
It would stiffen penalties for ex-cons and known gang members caught with illegal guns and require they spend 85 percent of their sentences in prison, instead of the 50 percent under current law.
"It's a narrow, strong, important revision to our firearms laws that assures that gang members and felons with weapons are held to a higher standard than they are right now and serves as a deterrent to gun crime," Zalewski said.
But it would also require that first-time offenders serve 85 percent of their sentences, although Zalewski cut the minimum sentence for those without previous records who get caught from three years to one. With the legalized carrying of concealed weapons taking effect early next year in Illinois, too many law-abiding gun owners could be caught in the "dragnet" of Zalewski's measure, said National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde.
It has strong backing from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. But the Department of Corrections would see its bulging population grow by 3,000 over the next decade, costing $713 million more for an agency that is operating with less money for more inmates already, agency chief of staff Bryan Gleckler said.
"We are out of public safety dollars," argued John Maki, executive director of the prison monitoring group, the John Howard Association. "Where will this money come from? What will we not fund?"
Another House committee approved $5 million in tax incentives Tuesday for a chemical distribution company that is considering moving its headquarters from Redmond, Wash., to Downers Grove.
The legislation, also sponsored by Zalewski, would require Univar to keep 100 jobs in Illinois and add at least 69 jobs. The committee's 8-0 vote sends the measure to the House floor, where it could be heard Wednesday.
Two more highly publicized incentive packages could be heard on the Senate floor Wednesday. One would give up to $24 million for Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland Company to keep its global headquarters in Illinois. The company has said it wants to move to a city with better international access.
Another proposal would give tax breaks to Naperville-based OfficeMax Inc. if the company that emerges from its merger with Florida-based Office Depot Inc. remains in Illinois, retains 2,000 jobs and adds 200 more.
And the House approved a $50 million extra appropriation Tuesday that includes $33 million to set up the concealed-carry system in Illinois. The money would come from the $150-per-permit fee; officials expect 300,000 applicants in the first year.