Legal weed, Reproductive Health Act pass, along with deadline

Major Pritzker initiatives — legal sports gambling, capital bill, budget — go down to the wire and beyond

The General Assembly faced a flood of bills ahead of a midnight deadline before the end of the current legislative session. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

The General Assembly faced a flood of bills ahead of a midnight deadline before the end of the current legislative session. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The General Assembly lost a race against a midnight deadline Friday to pass major pieces of Gov. Pritzker’s ambitious agenda, but it got things rolling earlier in the day by approving the legalization of marijuana.

The House of Representatives voted 66-47 midafternoon Friday to pass House Bill 1438, joining the Senate to make Illinois the 11th state to approve the adult use of recreational cannabis. Pritzker has already committed to sign the bill, which would take effect next year.

The governor immediately issued a statement saying: “The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation. This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance. I applaud bipartisan members of the General Assembly for their vote on this legislation.” Calling it “monumental legislation,” he thanked lead sponsors Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, as well as other key members of the General Assembly.

As of Jan. 1, Illinoisans 21 and older will be permitted to buy marijuana at dispensaries and possess up to 30 grams, or just over an ounce, of “cannabis flower” — what most people recognize as grass, reefer, or weed — and 5 grams of cannabis concentrates, including hash oil, and up to a half-gram of edible cannabis-infused products.

The remaining agenda was extensive, however, and not much of it got over the end line before midnight. Included in the list of bills still requiring passage in either or both the House of Representatives and the Senate was the legalization of sports gambling, which along with legal cannabis is already pegged for revenues in Pritzker’s proposed 2020 budget, as well as the budget itself.

Rep. Bob Rita of Blue Island submitted a new version of a bill expanding gambling and legalizing sports betting Friday. It included a handful of new casinos, including one in Chicago.

Republican tax hawks griped Friday when a 1,581-page budget was dropped on their desks; they complained that didn’t allow adequate time to digest it. Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, the House majority leader, said the budget came in at $40.3 billion. It passed the House late in the day, 83-35, and was sent to the Senate, after which the House adjourned.

Shortly before midnight, the Senate followed the House in passing the Reproductive Health Act, by a 34-20 vote, renewing the state’s commitment to reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood of Illinois President Jennifer Welch cheered one of the few legislative measures to be fully completed Friday and called on the governor to sign it, saying, “We are confident that Gov. Pritzker will follow through with his promise to make Illinois 'the most progressive state in the country on reproductive rights' and sign the Reproductive Health Act into law.”

Pritzker said he’d readily oblige, issuing a statement saying: “Illinois is making history, because our state will now be the most progressive in the nation for reproductive health care. In Illinois, we trust women to make the most personal and fundamental decisions of their lives — and now, that will be the law of the land, even as it’s under threat in other states.” The governor again credited Cassidy and Sen. Melinda Bush, as well as “countless advocates and groups around the state,” adding, “I look forward to joining them to sign this bill.”

Yet a possible $41.5 billion capital bill, which would have to be funded with new taxes, lagged behind the budget.

New Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed interest in that capital bill this week, along with a potential Chicago casino that might be wrapped into the gambling bill. But at the 11th hour she took issue with a provision in the sports-gambling bill that would allow fans to place bets at stadiums and arenas.

The legislature has already put a constitutional amendment to allow a progressive income tax on the ballot in the next general election in November 2020, and in a separate move lawmakers endorsed the rates set in the original “fair tax” proposal from the governor, which would cut tax rates or leave them level for 97 percent of Illinois taxpayers, while raising them on three brackets for those earning $250,000 a year or more.

The House voted to approve those rates Thursday night, again following Senate passage, and Pritzker issued a statement Friday saying: “Tax fairness has achieved an extraordinary milestone, and Illinois's middle class and those striving to get there are poised to benefit. I'm especially grateful to Rep. Mike Zalewski for shepherding this measure through the House, as well as all of those who have worked hard for years to deliver on the promise of a fair income tax. A fair tax will bring monumental change to this state by protecting working families; 97 percent of taxpayers will pay the same or less, and we will stabilize Illinois's finances. Opponents should be honest that they offer bad options — either cutting schools and public safety to the bone, or raising taxes on everyone by 20 percent. Instead, I stand firmly on the side of working families and fairness.”

Measures that failed to pass by midnight aren’t necessarily dead, but now have to pass by three-fifths supermajorities to take effect with the start of next year.

The House moved to extend its adjournment until Sunday, and the Senate suggested it could continue action into next week.

Much earlier in this year’s session, the General Assembly passed a bill raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. It was signed into law in February as Pritzker’s first major legislative victory.