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updated: 1/12/2011 5:33 PM

New lawmakers take oath of office hours after big tax vote

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By Jeff Engelhardt

SPRINGFIELD -- Members of the new Illinois General Assembly were sworn in Wednesday afternoon, facing the aftermath of the tax increase approved by lawmakers just hours earlier.

For the next two years, state lawmakers will work as the 97th General Assembly.

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After House members took the oath of office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, touted the previous group's accomplishments, including the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, legalization of civil unions, repeal of the death penalty (which is awaiting action the governor's desk) and reforms to the budget process.

"We have to learn to live within our means," Madigan said. "It has to require courage, it has to require people to say no."

House Republican Leader Tom Cross, of Oswego, said the new House must continue to build on the foundation of teamwork that was shown in the bipartisan effort to reform Medicaid.

And while there will be disagreements, Cross said the scope of the budget crisis is too large for one party to overcome it.

"The key to all of this ... is that we are ready and willing to work with you as long as there's an equal and mutual partnership about working together," Cross said.

After a contentious atmosphere in the early hours Wednesday morning when the tax increase was being voted on, members of the newly sworn in House seemed excited and hopeful for the future.

Rep. Mike Fortner, a West Chicago Republican, said he was eager to meet the freshmen members and hear their ideas.

"I'm confident that our new members, on both sides of the aisle, will bring fresh thinking and that's going to be helpful," Fortner said. "Perhaps they will see ways of doing things we haven't considered before and we need to look at that."

In the Senate, President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, singled out education reform as a possible focus during lawmakers' new terms.

And Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, of Lemont, said that despite the tax-increase vote that happened about 10 hours before the ceremony, the state's financial picture needed to remain a focus of lawmakers.

"Despite the action taken last night, our work is not finished, she said.

Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell contributed to this report.

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