The Illinois Senate on Thursday scrapped plans to hold full votes this week on a controversial ban on certain types of guns as well as a proposal to legalize gay marriage.
Senate Democrat leaders announced they did not have enough votes to pass their measures on the two issues. The gay-marriage bill did, however, clear a Senate committee on Thursday.
"It is clear that we will need bipartisan support in order to take floor votes on gun safety and marriage equality this week. We will take some time to work on these important issues to advance them in the near future," the Senate Democratic caucus said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Democrats hold a majority in the Senate.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, had said she planned to call for a full Senate vote Thursday on legalizing gay marriage. Democrats had been counting on the votes of three senators who support gay marriage but were absent Thursday.
Steans said one of those was Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, who was absent due to a health issue involving a family member. Clayborne, who is the Senate Majority Leader, had been at the Capitol earlier in the week. A spokeswoman for Senate Democrats said she had no additional information about the health issue involving Clayborne's family member.
After seeing they didn't have enough votes to pass it, Democrats decided against a full Senate vote, but did hold a hearing on Steans' bill in the Senate Executive Committee. The committee approved the bill on an 8-5 party-line vote, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against. Steans said afterward that a full Senate vote could come Tuesday.
Opponents at the committee hearing said they feared the law would force churches to conduct gay marriages if they charge fees for marriage ceremonies, even a $25 fee for cleaning the church. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Springfield Diocese, representing Illinois bishops, added that church-affiliated groups such as the Knights of Columbus could be forced to offer their halls for same-sex marriages.
Paprocki said legalizing gay marriage wouldn't just allow more people to get married, it would "radically redefine what marriage is for everybody."
Proponents testifying included a lesbian couple who has been together 21 years, and an Illinois State University professor of child psychology who said children fare better in two-parent homes, regardless of whether they're gay.
Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said Thursday that such issues shouldn't be decided during a brief, lame-duck session.
"We'd literally be changing 10,000 years of culture and law. I think it should be filed in the new General Assembly, where we can engage the citizenry in this debate. To just do it in a day, I don't think is the right thing to do," Haine said.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, weighed in on the gay-marriage issue Thursday, sending a letter to state legislators. "I believe those whom God has brought to this Earth with a different sexual orientation and who seek a loving relationship in the eyes of the law should be given that opportunity," Durbin wrote.
With votes along party lines, a Senate committee on Wednesday advanced two bills that would have banned certain types of "assault" guns as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines. The full Senate was expected to vote on the measures Thursday, but a head-count indicated the bills would have been about three or four votes shy of passing.
A National Rifle Association lobbyist had told lawmakers the bill would restrict about 75 percent of handguns and 50 percent of long guns in circulation today. The NRA called the proposal an assault-weapons ban "on steroids."
It would have banned specific semiautomatic guns such as the Colt AR-15, the Intratec Tec-9, the Beretta AR-70, Kalashnikovs, and makes such as Norinco and Uzi. It also would ban any semiautomatic shotgun that has a revolving cylinder, a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip or thumbhole stock, or a shroud that encircles the barrel to prevent burning the shooter's non-trigger hand.
It also would ban any semiautomatic pistol that can accept a detachable magazine and has one of five other characteristics, such as a weight exceeding 50 ounces when unloaded.
In addition, it would ban semiautomatic rifles with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 bullets. Also on the list: semiautomatic rifles that accept detachable magazines and have one of three other characteristics, such as a pistol grip or thumbhole stock.
People who already own such guns would have been allowed to keep them, but the owners would have been required to register them with Illinois State Police at a cost of $10 or $15 per gun.
Haine said supporters of gun rights, such as himself, weren't open to discussing restrictions on guns if the concealed-carry issue wasn't also on the table.
"Many of us object to any disucssions about magazines and assault rifles unless we discuss also the concealed-carry, which has been upheld by the second-highest court of the United States. We want it discussed, the right of a citizen to defend himself or herself," Haine said.
Haine doubts whether the gun ban or gay marriage can get enough votes to pass in the near future.
"They don't have the votes. I don't see the 30 votes for either bill," he said.
Meantime, there's no apparent progress on the state's worsening pension problem. The retirement funds for state employees and downstate teachers are underfunded by about $96 billion, but legislators so far haven't coalesced behind any single plan on the pension issue.
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, blamed Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, as well as Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
"Frankly Gov. Quinn has not led on the issue. He talks a lot about the issue, but he hasn't put a proposal together that he is pushing," Murphy said. "The Senate president and speaker of the House, both Democrats, continue to fight about how this pension fix should come to pass, and the truth of the matter is, Rome burns while they fiddle."
The Senate in May passed a pension reform plan, but it deals only with state employees and members of the legislature.It does not address the pension systems for downstate teachers, university employees or judges. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is urging the House to pass the Senate plan next week.
The 97th General Assembly ends Wednesday, with the swearing-in of a new legislature that will include representatives and senators who were elected in November. The Senate recessed Thursday evening, and Cullerton said he might call Senators back to Springfield for action Tuesday.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.