Lawmakers work to push legislation through before end of Lame Duck session

By WEEK Producer

January 7, 2013 Updated Oct 26, 2013 at 4:28 AM CDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Only 24 hours remain for Illinois lawmakers to get moving and get the state's pension problem under control before the current legislative session ends.

Tensions ran high Monday as people packed into a State Capitol room, anxious for any hint of relief in Illinois' pension crisis. With Wednesday's deadline looming, a House committee approved a pension proposal for a vote in the full House.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross seemed just as eager as the eyes watching him.

"This is something that has to happen. It's time has come," said Cross.

The bill proposes to reduce almost a third of the nearly $97 billion in unfunded liability. That's through a two percent increase in the amount deducted from current employee's paychecks, and a six year freeze on coast of living adjustments, or COLA's, to benefits. After that, COLA's will only be rewarded to retirees ages 67 and older, and will be capped at three percent on the first $25,000 of pension benefits.

The state will guarantee paying its full share to the pension fund. If not, employees can sue.

"We're going to put our money where our mouth is and promise to make our payments going forward," said State Representative Daniel Biss, (D) 17th District.

Still, that's not enough said those against the bill, mainly union leaders representing teachers and other state-funded workers.

"There is no guarantee here that the state will fund money going forward. There's a huge loophole in this bill which you could drive a truck through," said Henry Bayer of AFSCME.

"Passing this law will only make matters worse," said Dan Montgomery of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

"The proposal before you hurts every teacher in every city in this state," said Cinda Klickna of the Illinois Education Association.

House members adjourned for the night without voting and will return Tuesday. State Representative Dan Brady is still on the fence.

"I don't know how we can have pension reform of our five pension systems by leaving one of them out. One of them out is our judges," said Brady.

Even co-sponsors of the bill say they're not 100 percent pleased with the proposal, but it's the best they have to work with, given the magnitude of the state's pension problem. The possible solution lies in the hands of both the House and Senate, if and when they take a vote this lame duck session.

Also awaiting a full House vote is a measure allowing temporary drivers' licenses for undocumented immigrants. That is provided the individual has lived in Illinois for more than a year and can prove his or her identity with a valid passport or proper documentation.

That bill passed a House panel on Monday, a move supporters say will help undocumented families live their lives.

"So many people that can't get their legal statuses are going to be able to drive and go to work and take their children to school and to the doctors. It will now mean they are legal, they can't travel, can't find a job with this it's only to be able to drive," said Illinois People's Action Board Member, Christina Deutsch.

The Senate has already passed the bill. Passage in the House would send the bill to the governor's desk for approval.