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The Illinois Legislature's fall veto session starts today -- what's that?

Capitol building in Springfield
Capitol News Illinois

Lawmakers have been away from Springfield since May but they’re coming back for two weeks. What do they do? Why is their schedule like this?

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and statewide lawmakers are gathering in Springfield this week for the first week of the state legislature’s veto session. Happening this week and in November, it’s a time for lawmakers to consider vetoes, continue work on existing legislation or introduce something new.

Let’s break it down some more.

What is the fall veto session? Why does it happen?

The Legislature comes back for two weeks every fall, ostensibly, to address vetoes Pritzker issued over the summer.

There are a few types of vetoes the governor can enact. He can reject a bill outright (total veto) or change certain parts of it (amendatory veto). If it’s an appropriations bill — or spending bill — he can also cut spending from it (line item or reduction veto).

On the first day, the secretary of state delivers the vetoes to either the House or the Senate, depending on where the measure originated. Lawmakers from that point have 15 calendar days to either override the veto or accept the governor’s changes — the bill becomes law that way. If they do nothing and let the veto stand, the bill either dies or — in the case of an appropriations measure — it becomes law with the changes the governor wanted.

When does it happen?

The actual two weeks they come back in the fall varies from year to year — this year, they’ll be in Springfield from Oct. 24 to 26 and again from Nov. 7 to 9. This, the spring session and the lame duck session that happens in January once every two years are all part of the General Assembly’s regular schedule.

What does it take to override a veto from the governor?

It takes a three-fifths majority of lawmakers in both chambers to override a veto. That number is 36 in the Senate and 71 in the House.

Are there any big items on deck for this year’s veto session?

Lifting the nuclear moratorium

Pritzker vetoed a bipartisan measure that would have lifted the state’s moratorium on building new nuclear reactors that’s been in place since the 1980s. He opposed what he said were last-minute changes to the measure allowing “advanced nuclear reactors” to be built instead of “small modular reactors.”

Pritzker favored the measure’s original language allowing “small modular reactors.” He also thought it needed regulatory protections for people who would live and work around nuclear reactors.

At the time the sponsor, state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, vowed to override the veto — but she filed a new measure last week (Oct. 18) in the event legislative leaders don’t call the override. The small nuclear reactors Pritzker prefers, ones that generate no more than 350 megawatts, are back in the bill’s language and the “advanced” reactors have been stripped.

Building more electricity transmission capacity

Pritzker also partially vetoed an energy measure that, in part, gives downstate utility Ameren first crack at any project to build new transmission lines without going through a competitive bidding process. The measure also takes care of unrelated needs, like requiring the Illinois Power Agency to study several policy proposals. Pritzker removed the portion giving existing utilities the right of first refusal, but left the rest of the measure intact. Lawmakers can accept his changes, override the veto or do nothing — if they do nothing the bill dies.

The veto split Pritzker’s supporters. Environmental groups applauded the move, saying large-scale clean energy projects should be brought online through competitive bidding. But supporters say competitive bidding opens the process to out-of-state companies who won’t use in-state labor and don’t offer the same worker protections, among other concerns.

Is that it? Can they do anything else during a veto session?

Yes. Lawmakers weren’t called in for a special session to tackle one specific issue, so they’re free to address other matters that perhaps they didn’t get to before adjourning in May. So far this year, lawmakers have introduced more than 6,000 bills. Less than 10% of those passed, and the governor vetoed only a handful of them.

A few other things that might come up this veto session:

Karina’s Bill

People who are the subjects of orders of protection wouldn’t be allowed access to their firearms for the duration of the order and they wouldn’t be able to acquire new ones under Karina’s Bill.

Sponsored by state Rep. Maura Hirschauer, D-Batavia, the measure makes clear that police are responsible for removing firearms from an offender’s home. Domestic violence is one of more than a dozen reasons a person’s Firearm Owners ID Card can be revoked, but the law now allows them to transfer weapons to another FOID card holder — even if they live in the same household.

The measure is named after Karina Gonzales, who was the victim of a double homicide in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood in July. She and her 15-year-old daughter Daniela were allegedly shot and killed by Karina’s husband, Jose Alvarez. She’d gone to police two weeks prior to report abuse and was granted an order of protection, but they still lived in the same home together and he retained access to his guns.

Invest in Kids

Invest in Kids is a scholarship program that offers income tax breaks to families who donate to qualified scholarship-granting organizations — like Empower Illinois and the Bright Promise Fund. They then use that money to offer scholarships to Illinois students so they can attend non-public schools. The organizations can grant up to $75 million in scholarships per year.

Invest in Kids was supposed to expire in 2021, but lawmakers extended it until the end of this year.

Pritzker has had different responses to the idea of extending the act since he’s been governor. He has, in the past, called it a bad idea but more recently he said he’d support extending the program if lawmakers send him a bill to sign. That action could happen during the veto session.

Allowing legislative staffers to unionize

Employees in House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s office have been trying to unionize for nearly a year.

The Illinois Legislative Staff Association’s calls for voluntary recognition were not answered, but the speaker introduced a measure that would allow those employees — and all legislative workers — to form a union.

The bill creates the Office of State Legislative Labor Relations, which would be led by a director appointed to a four-year term. That person would be responsible for negotiating with a representative of the union’s choosing regarding “wages, hours and other conditions of employment.” It also gives the state panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board jurisdiction over legislative employees.

It’s scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday morning.

Alex Degman is a Statehouse reporter with WBEZ.