11/16/2010 11:24 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Veto Session Could Tackle Death Penalty, Civil Unions

Today, Illinois lawmakers begin their six-day veto session before breaking for Thanksgiving--and they have a lot on their plate.

Many Illinois residents have waited years for lawmakers to address civil unions and the death penalty--big, controversial issues that will stir up plenty of debate. But, as the State Journal-Register pointed out over the weekend, these things could be decided rather quickly:

As for the veto session, it appears once again lawmakers will try to cram some major issues into the six-day session, issues they couldn't resolve during the regular spring session, which lasted about five months.

Civil Unions

As for civil unions, Gov. Pat Quinn previously discussed tackling the issue before Christmas. Quinn supports full marriage equality, but feels that civil unions are a step in the right direction, and believes he will have the support needed during the veto session.

"The votes are there, I believe." Quinn told the Daily Herald in October. "In the Senate for sure, and definitely I think we can do it in the House."

Rep. Greg Harris, who sponsored the civil unions bill, agreed.

"I think we're awfully darned close," he told the Sun-Times.

Death Penalty

"We've had 8,000 murders in Illinois since 2000, brought capital charges against 500 defendants and seen just 17 sentenced to death," Chicago News Cooperative columnist James Warren wrote over the weekend. "Two of those cases were reversed on appeal, and two defendants committed suicide in prison."

Warren was editorializing on the Illinois Capital Reform Study Committee's findings that Illinois taxpayers are spending huge sums of money prosecuting death-penalty cases, though there have only been 18 death sentences since 2003.

Jeremy Schroeder of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty hopes Illinois lawmakers consider both cost (the state could save $20 million by abolishing the death penalty) and failed attempts at reform during the veto session, the State Journal-Register reports.

"If you know you have a broken system and we're putting money into that, it's a pretty common sense question to say 'why are we spending money there when we're cutting things here,'" Schroeder explained to Illinois Statehouse News.

Tax Increase

While there is a very good chance lawmakers will wait until the new year (and new General Assembly) to vote on a tax increase, the issue could still be discussed during the veto session. House Speaker Michael Madigan has previously insisted that Republicans need to be part of a tax hike vote, but that doesn't mean he will necessarily wait for newly elected officials to take office.

SJ-R reports:

. . . during the veto session, a tax increase that takes effect immediately needs 71 votes to pass, putting the goal further out of reach.

Madigan told House members last week they will be in session eight days in early January that previously weren't scheduled. Bills need only 60 votes to pass during that time.

". . . if you're a lame-duck Republican who believes a tax increase is needed, you could vote for one in January and make a quick exit," Doug Finke of SJ-R writes. That could be what Madigan had in mind when he decided to call January session.

In any case, Illinois residents can expect the individual tax rate in Illinois to go from 3 percent to 4 percent in a few months.

Open Elections & Gambling

Gov. Quinn is not a big fan of the whole one-party ballot rule in Illinois. Over the summer, Quinn rewrote legislation with an amendatory veto to eliminate the requirement that Illinois residents must declare a party affiliation when voting in a primary election. Reform groups support this, but Speaker Madigan does not--which likely means the issue is dead in the water.

Illinois could see five new riverboat gambling facilities if casino enthusiasts have their way. While Gov. Quinn has expressed concern over Illinois becoming the "Las Vegas of the Midwest," he has yet to say whether he would veto a gambling extension bill. Read more about the gambling issue here.

Will lawmakers tackle these big issues in six days? That remains to be seen. But Rich Miller of the Capitol Fax blog says that Quinn needs to see some wins.

"The bottom line here is that Quinn needs some veto session wins to balance out his inevitable big losses or he's going to enter the spring session as a hobbled incumbent."