It was supposed to be the Illinois Senate’s time to bask in the spotlight.
With members of the Illinois House out of town last week, the Senate took center stage in the Capitol. It was time for the Democrats who control the chamber to show their muscle on issues like pension reform and legalizing concealed weapons.
As it turned out, there was little common ground plowed on those complicated, big time issues.
The legislative session is shaping up like most; the big issues – the budget, gun control, gambling and pension reform -- will be left unresolved until the final days of May, if not longer.
The lack of inertia in late April, however, had some observers wondering if we should begin preparing for a long summer of overtime.
* JOBS PROGRAM
Little did we know that allowing Illinoisans to carry loaded weapons around in public was a jobs program.
As you’re aware, a federal court has given the Illinois legislature until early June to pass a law legalizing the concealed carry of firearms. The court said there is no reason Illinois is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t allow it.
According to the Illinois State Police, they would need to hire an estimated 80 people if such a law is approved. Twenty of them would work in the understaffed Firearms Owner Identification division, while another 60 would work in a new concealed carry division.
Police officials also said they’ll need about $31 million in technology upgrades to comply with the law.
To help pay for all that stuff, the state police are advocating a $100 fee for a concealed carry permit and an increase in the FOID card fee to $18, up from the current $10.
* GETTING SOAKED
State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka went through what a lot of Illinoisans were dealing with last week.
The basement of her home in Riverside received about three inches of water in it due to the heavy rains and flooding that hit the state.
Riverside, a Chicago suburb, is in the watershed for the Des Plaines River and often floods, she said.
"One of the wonderful things about Illinois is that we have all these rivers because it allows us another form of transportation, making us a big transportation hub," Topinka said.
"The bad news are when things go wrong, you have five rivers erupting on you, and you are going to have to get through it," she said. "There's a lot of suffering that's involved here."
* BUS CAMERAS
Among the longer debates in the Senate last week was not over pension reform, gun control or gambling expansion.
Rather, the big fight on the floor was over a proposal that would have allowed school districts to place security cameras on school buses to catch motorists who illegally pass buses when they are loading or unloading students.
Opponents argued that the cameras would be used to generate money for communities via a multitude of traffic fines.
“This bill is all about raising revenue and not safety,” Republican state Sen. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington said in a Facebook post.
“This is a safety mechanism. This would hopefully be a deterrent,” said state Sen. Tony Munoz, D-Chicago, who sponsored the legislation.
The measure was approved 36-12.
Voting against the idea were Republican state Sens. Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Dale Righter of Mattoon, Jason Barickman of Bloomington, Tim Bivins of Dixon, Darin LaHood of Dunlap and Kyle McCarter of Lebanon.
* DAVIS OPPONENT
Freshman U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis could know in just a few weeks whether he’ll face a challenge in the 2014 general election from the chief judge of Madison County.
Ann Callis, who mulled a bid for the 12th Congressional District in 2012, has been making inquiries about running in the 13th district, which stretches from her home county to Bloomington-Normal and includes Decatur, Champaign-Urbana and Davis’ hometown of Taylorville.
Word is that she’s about 90 percent sure that she’s going to seek the office and could make a decision in early May.
Davis narrowly edged Bloomington physician David Gill in what turned out to be a nasty and expensive race last year. Davis received about 46.5 percent of the vote, with Gill netting 46.2. Independent John Hartman of Edwardsville garnered 7.2 percent.
It is those numbers – as well as a Democrat-drawn map – that have Democrats thinking they could grab the seat next year.