Lawmakers say still hope for gambling expansion

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Associated Press

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 4:04 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 30 at 4:04 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — With time running out in the fall veto session, the sponsors of legislation to add five new casinos in Illinois said Thursday their focus has shifted to reaching a deal by early January, and they remain hopeful it will happen.

Sen. Terry Link, D-Lincolnshire, said there was "a very good chance" a gambling expansion bill would come together before new lawmakers take office Jan. 9. He said House Speaker Michael Madigan is now involved in negotiations, and he expects Gov. Pat Quinn — who vetoed a gambling bill this summer — to be at the table as well.

But Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who sponsored the vetoed legislation, was less optimistic about Quinn's role, saying the governor has so far been unwilling to sit down and work out a compromise. That has Lang questioning whether Quinn actually wants a deal by Jan. 9, as he has said.

"If his goal is to get a gaming bill accomplished, you'd think he'd be meeting with us," Lang said.

Quinn's spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, said the governor's priority is pension reform, and that he has been clear about what he needs to see in a gambling bill.

"We've discussed our proposals with many, including proponents, and will continue to work with them to improve the legislation," Anderson said.

Lawmakers approved a bill earlier this year that would have added slot machines at horse racing tracks, a casino in Chicago and riverboat casinos in Danville, Park City, Rockford and an undecided location in Chicago's south suburbs. Supporters, including Chicago's mayor, argued that the expansion would provide tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for a state in the midst of a major budget crisis.

Quinn vetoed the legislation, saying it lacked ethical protections, including a ban on campaign contributions from the gambling industry.

He said earlier this month he was optimistic he could work with lawmakers to come up with a new plan before Jan. 9.

Lang said Thursday he believes he has enough votes in the House for an override, but the measure is a few votes short in the Senate.

Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, said Cullerton wants to wait to vote until lawmakers and the governor have an agreement, and "that has not materialized."

Link hopes to proceed with legislation that would address some of the governor's concerns as early as next week — the second week of the two-week veto session. But a deal likely couldn't be finalized until legislators return to Springfield after New Year's Day.

If it doesn't get done, Lang said lawmakers would try again after the new General Assembly is seated — when Democrats will hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. But Lang doesn't believe that will make it easier for a gambling bill to pass. He said freshman legislators may be less willing to take on controversial issues, so he'd still like to get a deal before Jan. 9.

"I think there's still a lot of interest, momentum and desire to make it happen this session," Lang said.

Also on Thursday, a Senate committee approved a plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, and the Senate voted to give Chicago Public Schools more time to release a list of school closures.

Supporters of the driver's license proposal say it would make Illinois roads safer by increasing the number of drivers who have been trained and tested, and who are required to carry insurance. They say there are about 250,000 illegal immigrant motorists on the roads already.

It has the support of several sheriffs, the governor as well as Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno. But opponents say the measure, which would provide licenses valid for three years, would encourage illegal immigration and is a step toward amnesty.

The schools bill gives Chicago Public Schools until March 31 to release its list of school closures. The previous deadline was Saturday, but district officials said they wanted more time to gather input from parents and community members and come up with a more comprehensive plan.

Lawmakers will return to Springfield on Tuesday for the final three days of the veto session.

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Associated Press Political Writer John O'Connor contributed to this report.

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The bills are SB1849, SB9567 and SB547.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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