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Big Issues Remained on Legislature's Final Day

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Big Issues Remained on Legislature's Final Day

UPDATE: Concealed Carry Bill Sent to Governor
UPDATE: Gambling Expansion Won't Get Vote
UPDATE: Gay Marriage Bill Won't Get Vote This Session
UPDATE: No Deal on Pension Reform; Quinn Vows to Call Lawmakers Together

Illinois lawmakers enter the final day of the legislative session Friday with two of the biggest issues facing the state still unresolved: a nearly $100 billion pension crisis and a court-ordered bill on the public possession of guns.

The Senate late Thursday voted down a House-approved pension reform measure sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan. Afterward, Senate President John Cullerton said Madigan should use the Legislature's last day to call a vote in the House on a pension bill the Senate passed earlier this month. Cullerton said he believes the bill — which he sponsored and labor unions support — could pass the House. But he said Madigan doesn't appear willing to call it.

"The bill that passed the House got a vote, but the one that passed the Senate didn't," Cullerton said. "What's the problem? What's the fear of calling the other one?"

Madigan has said he doesn't believe Cullerton's pension legislation would save the state enough money.

With the clock ticking down, a deal was looking less and less likely.

But House and Senate Democrats indicated late Thursday they had reached a compromise on another key issue: how and where Illinois gun owners would be able to carry their weapons in public.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said the deal would allow local municipalities to retain gun regulations, a provision upon which he and other supporters of tighter gun restrictions insisted. But he gave ground on the issue of allowing guns in restaurants, even if they serve liquor. Raoul said a Senate committee will hear the legislation Friday morning.

A federal appeals court ruled in December that the state's ban on the carrying of concealed weapons is unconstitutional and gave lawmakers until June 9 to enact a law allowing it.

Before Friday ends, lawmakers may also take votes to legalize same-sex marriage, on a gambling expansion proposal and on a plan that would regulate a high-volume oil and gas drilling process known as "fracking" in Illinois.

The fracking legislation overwhelmingly passed the House on Thursday and will be heard Friday in the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

Illinois' regulatory bill, drafted with the help of industry and some environmental groups, has been touted as among the toughest in the nation. But while supporters say hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," would generate tens of thousands of jobs, opponents — fearful that it could cause pollution and deplete water resources — have been pushing for a two-year moratorium to allow more time to study health and environmental issues.

Lawmakers also need to give final approval to a new state budget. Pieces of the proposed $35.4 billion spending plan already have gone to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. The budget avoids cuts to education or human services, such as programs for the elderly and the developmentally disabled, for the first time in several years.

Republicans have criticized the plan for increasing spending at a time when they say Illinois should be cutting back.

The bill to legalize same-sex marriage has passed the Senate and is awaiting a floor vote in the House. Supporters rallied outside of Madigan's office Thursday, saying lawmakers promised same-sex couples a vote on the measure and they must now fulfill their promise.

Quinn has called marriage equality one of his top legislative priorities. If the House approves it, Illinois would become the 13th state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Opponents say marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

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