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updated: 10/22/2013 6:30 PM

Illinois lawmakers off to slow start in fall session

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois legislature's fall session got off to a sputtering start Tuesday, as lawmakers delayed action on the two biggest issues on their agenda and a deal to address the state's multibillion-dollar pension shortfall had yet to materialize.

The sponsors of legislation to stiffen sentences for gun crimes and a measure to give Archer Daniels Midland Company up to $24 million in tax breaks to keep its global headquarters in Illinois called off scheduled votes. Even the biggest event of the day -- a rally in support of same-sex marriage that drew an estimated 3,000 people to the Capitol -- was unlikely to bring any immediate action.

Rep. Mike Zalewski, the sponsor of the gun bill, said work was still happening behind the scenes on several of the issues.

"You have a lot of competing interests facing the General Assembly and, similar to my bill, it's important to get resolution before we start rushing bills through the process," the Democrat from Riverside said.

The legislation would require a three-year prison sentence for illegally packing a loaded gun. Felons and gang members could get 10 years in prison. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made it a legislative priority because of rampant gun violence in Chicago, but the National Rifle Association is worried that law-abiding gun owners who are in the wrong place at the wrong time could get socked with a three-year sentence.

Zalewski said he put off a vote because a new round of negotiations began Tuesday with the NRA and downstate lawmakers who support gun rights.

"We knew we had to get common ground with other members, and we had space today to negotiate an agreement," he said.

Rep. John Bradley, a Democrat from Marion, declined to say why the ADM deal and several other incentive packages didn't get a vote, or when such action could occur.

"We've had testimony on the various requests and they're under consideration at this point," Bradley said.

David Weintraub, ADM's director of external communications, said in an email the company was "still in discussions with officials" and didn't have an update Tuesday.

ADM announced last month it planned to move its global headquarters from Decatur to a city with better global access. ADM hasn't said what locations the company is considering, but Chicago officials have said the city is on the list.

Lawmakers also say they're continuing to work on a compromise deal to fix Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension shortfall, which Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday said is a matter of "extreme emergency." He disputed earlier statements by Senate President John Cullerton, a fellow Chicago Democrat, that the pension shortfall is not an imminent crisis but that finding a solution can keep the state's income taxes down.

Several state agencies also asked Illinois lawmakers to give them more money than was originally budgeted for the year, though no votes were taken on the requests. The Department of Corrections wants an extra $40 million to pay for inmates' food, clothes and medical care, while the Department of Transportation says it needs $17 million to help offset the costs of providing reduced fares to seniors and the disabled, as mandated by the legislature.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency also is requesting nearly $6 million to cover Illinois' share of flood costs, and the Illinois State Police want an extra $2 million -- $1.8 million for cadet training and $200,000 for the funding of a concealed carry license review board.

The same-sex marriage bill, which was approved by the Senate in February, has been pending in the House since its sponsor opted not to call it in May because he didn't have the votes. Rep. Greg Harris said Tuesday he's keeping an open mind about whether he'll call it this week or when the fall session resumes the first week of November. But several factors -- including an early December deadline for candidates to challenge lawmakers in the March primary -- could mean the timing is bad for any controversial votes.

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