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Illinois legislators will be back in November 7 to deal with unresolved matters


SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers are heading back to their districts after three days in Springfield this week that saw little movement on several major initiatives.

They will have a week off before returning to Springfield on Nov. 7 for the second of their annual two-week veto sessions, during which they consider bills the governor vetoed since they last met in the spring.

When they return, they'll consider measures including reforms to the state's nuclear policy and a potential extension of a controversial tax credit program that funds private school scholarships.

While there wasn't a formal vote on the subject, advocates for the Invest in Kids tax credit program for donors to private school scholarship funds flooded the Statehouse this week to rally support for renewing the program before it is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

The program, which has been the subject of partisan debate for several years and originally was introduced as a concession to Republicans during the creation of the state's evidence-based funding model for schools, was not extended during this year's budget negotiations.

Hundreds of advocates — including school uniform-clad children and a few nuns — rallied inside the Capitol, with their loud chanting in the rotunda at times interrupting debate on unrelated bills inside the House chamber.

Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, D-Chicago, introduced a bill this week that would extend the program until 2028 with a $50 million budget cap, down from the $75 million it has received in recent years. It also would limit the individual tax credits to be 100% credit for the first $5,000 and a lower percentage credit for any donations beyond $5,000. It previously was 75% on all donations.

Guerrero-Cuellar's House Bill 4194 hasn't been considered by any committees, meaning it cannot clear both chambers with just three session days left on the calendar this year. The topic likely will come up for discussion when lawmakers return in November but, for any negotiated extension of the program to pass in that second week of lawmakers' session, the proposals would have to be moved to a bill that's further along in the legislative process.

Energy policy

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Rep. Larry Walsh, D-Elwood, announced Wednesday he would not pursue a veto override vote for a policy that would have granted downstate electric utilities, notably Ameren Illinois, the "right of first refusal" for transmission line construction, allowing them to have first crack at the projects.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker vetoed the portion of a broader bill this summer containing the proposal, citing concerns about stifling competition and increasing consumer prices.

While he conceded the veto override, Walsh said he will push for a broader bill that would provide the right of first refusal across the whole state in the spring.

Pritzker also vetoed a bill earlier this year that would have partially lifted the state's 1980s-era moratorium on new nuclear construction, writing in his veto message that it didn't include sufficient protections for the "health and safety of Illinois residents who would live and work around these new reactors."

Since then, the original bill's sponsor has introduced a new bill she hopes addresses these concerns and Pritzker has indicated that he's open to supporting a bill allowing some nuclear construction.

"I'm hopeful that we’ll be able to get a bill that does that," Pritzker said. "We should be able to. We're all competent adults who understand what the goal is, and I believe there's a strong majority of people who want to do this."

Halal and kosher foods

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In a 43-15 vote Wednesday, the Senate passed a measure sponsored by Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, that would require schools and state-run facilities like prisons to offer kosher and halal food options for those with religious dietary restrictions.

The bill, Senate Bill 457, mirrors a similar proposal from Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, D-Bridgeview, which Pritzker vetoed this summer because of technical concerns about the contracting language.

The new bill would require the State Board of Education to identify and contract with vendors to provide kosher and halal food options to school districts. Once those master contracts are executed — provided that the General Assembly has allocated funding to do so — school districts would be required to adopt procedures regarding ordering, preparing and serving prepackaged meals offered under the statewide contracts.

Schools would not be required to offer these foods until ISBE enters into at least one master contract for the state.

"There are districts that are doing this right now," Villivalam said in an interview. "They have the option to continue to do it with the contracts they have entered into or they can enter into the master contract that's created." 

The bill was met with some pushback from Republican senators, who questioned the reasoning for some of the penalties for violating the bill's provisions.

Villivalam said during debate Wednesday that those and other concerns can be addressed through future amendments in the House or with follow-up legislation when the lawmakers return in the spring.

Capitol News Illinois’ Jennifer Fuller and Andrew Campbell contributed to this story.

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