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Lawmakers in Springfield Finish Ambitious Agenda

Lawmakers in Springfield blew through an ambitious agenda over the weekend, passing a host of bills as the spring session of the General Assembly came to a close.

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

The state legislature approved a $40 billion budget, a $45 billion capital plan, legalized recreational marijuana, gambling expansions, abortion protections, and more.

“Working with both Democrats and Republicans, Governor JB Pritzker and the General Assembly enacted Illinois’ most sweeping and consequential legislative agenda in a generation, ushering in a new era of fiscal responsibility and standing up for working families,” Pritzker said in a statement released to press accompanied by a long list of legislative wins for Democrats, who control the state legislature.

The state spending plan passed the House with bipartisan support, with a vote of 87-27. The budget includes a $375 million increase in spending for public education, increases spending for the Department of Children and Family Services by $100 million, and fully funds the state’s $9 billion pension contribution. Some taxes will also go up. The gasoline tax will double to 38 cents per gallon, vehicle registration fees will rise to $150, and the cigarette tax will rise by $1 per pack to $2.98.

“We started this session with an ambitious agenda and there were skeptics who said it couldn’t be done,” said Pritzker at a press conference in Springfield, according to the AP. “But what the skeptics failed to realize is that no obstacle can dwarf the transformative power of a state government and legislature that stands up for working families.”

The state’s capital plan also received bipartisan support. It calls for $45 billion to be spent on repairing roads, bridges, and buildings across Illinois.

Lawmakers approved the Reproductive Health Care Act, which established the “fundamental right” to abortion. The bill says that a “fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have independent rights.” It does away with provisions for spousal consent, criminal penalties for physicians performing abortions, and waiting periods.

“We’re not going back,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “We’re not going back to coat hangers, we’re not going back to dying. We’re not going back. And I am proud to say Illinois is a beacon. For women’s rights, for human rights.”

Illinois will also get six new casinos, including one in Chicago, the city’s first ever. Sports betting will also be legal at venues that seat more than 17,000 people, and race tracks will now be allowed to install slot machines and table games. Revenue from gambling expansions will go to the state infrastructure plan, and cash from the Chicago casino will go to fund police and firefighter pensions.

“This key piece of legislation really is going to make an economic difference of keeping our dollars home,” said state Sen. Terry Link, who pushed for the gambling expansions, according to the Daily Herald.

The House approved a bill that legalizes recreational marijuana on Friday, making Illinois the 11th state allowing it. On January 1st, 2020, Illinoisans over the age of 21 can legally possess 30 grams of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, or 500 milligrams of THC in marijuana-infused products. Nonresidents will be allowed to possess up to 15 grams of cannabis. Legal pot is estimated to generate up to $57 million in revenue in the first budget year. The law also expunges criminal records of people convicted of minor possession of cannabis, and creates a system of regulating and taxing the drug.

“The failed war on drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and my office will continue to explore ways to provide the broadest relief possible, beyond that provided by this legislation,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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