The General Assembly recently completed the 2023 Fall Veto Session, and there was no shortage of political gamesmanship on display.
It is typical during veto session to examine bills with upcoming sunset dates and determine which ones will be continued. Two sunsetting bills took center stage during this year’s veto session.
The first is 2017 legislation sponsored by Senator Kwame Raoul who now serves as Illinois’ Attorney General. The legislation, SB1722 (Public Act 100-0003), established high-end prison terms for those convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon who had previously been convicted of similar crimes. It also increased penalties for the unlawful use of a weapon by a felon.
Given the violent crime crisis in Illinois, one would think this would be an easy bill to extend. It was originally included in a comprehensive list of laws to be extended, but during the Senate discussion of the bills on the list, Democrats decided to pull SB 1722 out and have it run as a stand-alone bill. It was pasted into a different bill vehicle, HB1440, which passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. Only the most liberal Democrats voted against it. Almost immediately it was learned that the bill’s House sponsor was the leader of the House Progressive Caucus. This House sponsor issued a quick statement deeming the legislation “dead on arrival in the House,” because he had no intention of calling the bill for a vote.
By placing the law’s extension into its own stand-alone bill, Senate Democrats in competitive political districts, including the bill’s Senate sponsor, could claim they were being “tough on crime,” when all the while they knew it was a political stunt to provide them with political cover on the issue of criminal justice and penalties for repeat felony offenders.
Through this orchestrated political scheme, stiffer penalties for repeat felony gun offenders expire at the end of December. The partisan games used to kill the statute will make our State less safe, by allowing violent gun criminals to be back on the streets sooner.
Democrats also played games with efforts to extend the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The continuation of Invest in Kids was Senate Republicans’ top priority for the veto session. We all wanted to extend the program or remove the December 31, 2023 sunset date entirely. Many of us even wanted to see the program expanded so that more kids would have access to these transformational scholarships. The same is true for House Republicans.
I believe a child’s access to a quality education should not be dictated by their zip code, but for many families, the promise of a quality education is out of reach. Invest in Kids offered low-income families that cannot afford private school tuition a lifeline. It helped struggling students improve their chances of academic success by offering parents and guardians a choice.
By making a private donation to a fund, individuals and businesses could enjoy a 75% state income tax credit on the amount donated. Need-based tuition scholarships were then distributed from the fund to qualifying students. The program was extraordinarily successful, with more than $308 million donated over the life of the program, and over 40,000 scholarships awarded.
Special interest groups claimed the program would take funds away from public schools, but that is false. Schools are protected through “hold harmless” clauses in the school funding formula.
Hundreds of families flocked to Springfield to beg for the program’s continuance. Sadly, their pleas were ignored by Democrats, many of whom send their own kids to private schools. These are the same legislators who talk a lot about equity and inclusion for their constituents. By refusing to have an up or down vote on Invest in Kids, Democrats denied their constituents the opportunity to see how they would have voted. They simply let the families continue to lobby for the program’s continuance, then very quietly killed the bill. Democrats dodged a difficult vote and Invest in Kids ends on December 31. This stunt hurts low-income families but ingratiates Democrats with special interest groups that write big checks to their political campaigns.
Illinoisans deserve honest, transparent government, and during the 2023 veto session, they received neither. We can and must do better.