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ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_39010635.JPGSenate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) argues pension legislation while on the Senate floor Thursday. The Senate approved a union-supported pension reform bill, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the House, where lawmakers passed a competing proposal last week. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

With reporting from Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois Senate put itself on a collision course with the House Thursday by approving a Democratic pension-reform package favored by unions despite opposition from Republicans and a clear signal from Gov. Pat Quinn it wasn't his preferred pension fix.

"This is not a bill that just helps us this year or next year. This will help us for the next 30 years, and we have to be practical. We have to pass a bill. This is the best chance to do so," said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the measure's chief Senate sponsor.

His legislation, which passed the Senate 40-16 and moves to the House, would wipe away about $11.5 billion of the state's nearly $100 billion pension shortfall - savings that are barely a third of a competing alternative from House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and now in the Senate's lap.

"The big problem with this bill is that it doesn't solve the problem," said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), who like most Republicans voted against the plan.

The vote came after Quinn made clear his loyalties lie with the Madigan version of pension reform, not with what the Senate voted on Thursday.

gopfake-CST-051013.jpgSome of the possible candidates for the Illinois GOP chairman job include (top row) Joe Walsh, Lori Yokoyama, Ron Sandack, (bottom row) Don Tracy, Tim Schneider, Mark Shaw.

**(Updated with Ron Gidwitz and Jim Oberweis)**

A livid Ron Gidwitz called out the conservative faction of the party's central committee on Thursday, telling the Sun-Times its ousting of Illinois Republican Party Chairman and lack of preparation to deal with the fallout has put a poor face on the party, "destroying" the embattled GOP's chances in next year's election.

"The state central committee -- a faction of the state central committee -- is destroying any chance that the Republican party has in 2014," an angered Gidwitz told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday. "I mean, how stupid is this! The lack of thoughtful, leadership ... The state central committee is responsible for the leadership of our party. To push out the party chairman with no plan for a replacement -- it is absurd. And with no thought to the consequences of their behavior.
They all know how I feel because I told them."

UPDATED....

SPRINGFIELD-Rep. Jim Sacia has become an Internet celebrity.

During Tuesday's long House debate on concealed-carry legislation, the Republican from far northwestern Illinois made an analogy that tied together guns and castration in one fell swoop.

Now, a YouTube video of his floor speech has drawn more than 14,000 views, and one top black lawmaker condemned Sacia's remarks as the "most offensive statement" he'd heard.

"I have heard only positives," Sacia told the Chicago Sun-Times Thursday, when asked the reaction he has gotten since his speech. "My secretary in Freeport got one call from a lady in Chicago who insists I have a mental problem, but I would have expected that from someone in Chicago. The feedback has been unbelievably positive."

Spending seven hours on the House floor Tuesday, House members on both sides of the gun divide clashed heatedly while voting up or down on more than a dozen amendments to a concealed-carry bill carried by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

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AP Photo/Seth Perlman

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois moved a step closer Thursday to becoming the 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry as the state Senate approved legalizing gay marriage in a vote one backer described as "one for the history books."

"It is time Illinois get rid of its second-class status for a segment of our residents and allow everyone the opportunity to reap the emotional, social and economic benefits and obligations of marriage," said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

Steans' legislation passed the Senate 34-21 vote, with two present votes, and now moves to the House.

After a tearful closing statement by Steans, applause erupted in the chamber the moment the roll call surpassed the necessary 30 votes it needed to move to the House.

But her bill was decried by a mostly unified Republican front as an affront to the Bible.

"We are knocking down one of the central foundations of society with this bill," said state Sen. Dale Bivins (R-Dixon), a "no" vote who cited poet Robert Frost and the Scriptures in pushing the bill's defeat.

"From the Old Testament to the New, there's nothing that supports same-sex marriage," he said.

quinn_feb7.JPGSPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $2 billion-plus package to fund road construction, avert layoffs in the state's child-welfare agency and pay health-insurance bills for state workers after it passed the Senate Thursday despite GOP no-votes.

The legislation the governor signed sailed out of the Senate 38-15 and came one day after Quinn called on lawmakers to send him the supplemental spending bill designed to fund construction and cash-starved areas of state government for the next five months.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Quinn described the legislation as one "that will put people to work and protect the most vulnerable among us."

The measure covers spending for more than $600 million worth of unpaid healthcare costs for state employees, $675 million in spring road construction and $25 million to avert layoffs in the Department of Children and Family Services.

The legislation didn't require new revenue sources because it essentially rearranged existing state and federal money already in the state budget.

"This is a good initiative. It'll support human services and community-based mental health, which is desperately needed," said Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

The legislation was fast-tracked, passing the House and Senate in two days, but not without a misstep the Quinn administration acknowledged could have a "significant impact" in hindering roadwork envisioned under the plan.

The administration intended to dip into the state's Road Fund, which pays for road and bridge work, for $125 million to fund state employee health care costs. Instead, the legislation set the Road Fund diversion at $176 million.

Rather than slow down the legislation, as Senate Republicans sought, the head of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Ann Schneider, promised in a letter to a key Senate Democrat not to exceed the $125 million diversion originally envisioned.

But that pledge wasn't enough to assuage wary Republicans, who voted against the stopgap spending deal after their bid to delay passage of the bill was ignored by Senate Democrats.

"We're left in a position because we rushed and have a flawed draft where we have to take the word of the administration rather than just having the bill right and not having to worry about what happens after this," said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), who voted against the plan.

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Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

New legislation is hitting the floor in the nation's Capitol today that takes aim at corporations that have off-shore "tax shelters," as a way of keeping profits from being taxes. Its backers say it will generate more than $590 billion in tax revenue over the next decade.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is introducing the Corporate Tax Fairness Act, which aims to control the country's deficit and eliminate tax loopholes which she says are subsidizing big oil companies and corporations that are shipping jobs and profits overseas. Schakowsky introduced the bill in the House while U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced it in the Senate.

Under current law, U.S. corporations are allowed to defer or delay U.S. income taxes on overseas profits until this money is brought back into the United States.

U.S. corporations are also provided foreign tax credits to offset the amount of taxes paid to other countries. Today, U.S. corporations have an estimated $1.7 trillion of un-repatriated foreign profits sitting offshore, according to the bill sponsors.

Schakowsky tells the Sun-Times that corporations are using this as a tax loophole to shelter their profits by simply having post office boxes overseas. For instance, she says in the Cayman Islands there is a five-story building "that is the so-called home of 18,000 businesses." The companies are taking advantage of a tax loophole by sheltering some of their revenues.

The building is filled with post office boxes, she said, which are there: "For the sole purpose of tax avoidance," Schakowsky said. "It is money that we should be collecting from these wealthy corporations."

Some of the companies targeted: General Electric, Exxon Mobile, Pfizer, Microsoft, as well as others.

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Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is helped up the US Capitol steps by Vice President Joe Biden (2nd from right) and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (left), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is at far right, as many other Senators line the Capital steps on Thursday morning January 3, 2013. | Jon Sall~Sun-Times

When Illinois' junior Sen. Mark Kirk returned to the Senate last month, it was a triumph for friend and foe alike.

On both sides of the aisle, Kirk was applauded after making his climb back up the Capitol steps to return to office - ne easy task, as Lynn Sweet reported on Jan. 4.

Now Sen. Kirk is talking about just how difficult that return was. In an op/ed column he wrote for the Washington Post, Kirk talks about the struggle it's been since his stroke - the fear he felt the day it hit, the fight to get back and how he's changed as a person and a senator as a result of being stricken.

Kirk, who writes that he was always a "glass half empty guy," before his stroke says he's become much more positive and optimistic as a result of surviving not only the stroke, but the rehabilitation:

I'm different from what I was. My left leg and left arm might never work like they once did, but my mind is sharp. I'm capable of doing the work entrusted to me by the people of Illinois, but I am forever changed.

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Illinois Rep. Edward J. Acevedo, D-Chicago, argues legislation while on the House floor at the Illinois State Capitol during a session on Nov. 9, 2011 in Springfield. | Seth Perlman~AP

SPRINGFIELD-A bill granting undocumented immigrants temporary state driver's licenses cleared its first Illinois House hurdle Monday despite homeland security questions.

The House Transportation Vehicles & Safety Committee voted 6-3 to position the legislation favored by immigrant rights organizations for a full House vote later today, though its lead legislative advocate wouldn't commit to a roll call this afternoon.

The legislation "seeks to improve safety of our roads and make sure our motorists are trained, tested and insured," said Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor who estimates that 250,000 undocumented immigrants now drive on Illinois roads.

"Our entire state would benefit from Senate Bill 957. If only half the 250,000 get [temporary licenses] and get insured, Illinois insurance policy holders would save $46 million per year," Acevedo said. "Police officers would be able to know who they're stopping."

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has spearheaded passage of the new licensing system for immigrants.

Under the plan, which has already passed the Senate, undocumented immigrants who have lived in Illinois for one year would be eligible to receive a temporary visitors drivers license that would last for three years.

In exchange, those motorists would have to undergo rules-of-the-road training, take a vision test and show proof of auto insurance. The licenses couldn't be used to purchase firearms, to board aircraft or register to vote nor could applicants be licensed to drive semi-trailer trucks or school buses.

But in committee Monday, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police protested the legislation, saying it lacked the proper homeland security safeguards of requiring applicants to undergo fingerprinting and provide federal tax identification numbers.

"Modern Family" star and gay-marriage advocate explains to Chicago Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney why he came to Springfield Thursday with his fiance, Justin Mikita, to lobby the Senate to pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.


UPDATE

Cullerton's office: no senate floor votes today on gun ban or gay marriage

Here are ongoing updates from McKinney (@davemckinney123) via Twitter.


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An AR-15 with an extended capacity ammunition magazine. | File

SPRINGFIELD - Driven by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, gun-control legislation designed to ban assault weapons and the ammunition that feeds them passed a Senate panel late Wednesday, setting the stage for likely floor votes on Thursday.

The Democratic measures advanced out of the Senate Public Health Committee, which historically has been dominated by gun-control advocates, on party-line votes.

"The goal is to reduce the amount of incidents that occur where there are a significant amount of people shot in a short period of time," said Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), the chief Senate sponsor of legislation banning the sale and possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines that allow shooters to fire at high speeds without reloading.

His proposal, which passed by a 6-3 vote, accompanied a measure sponsored by Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago) that would impose similar restrictions on military-style weapons, like the ones used in last month's murders of 26 people in Connecticut, 20 of whom were children.