Citing constitutional concerns, several Illinois Democrats are pushing for a softer version of previously-approved state pension reform legislation -- a version which would allow those who have abused the system to collect their pensions anyway.
The measure (Senate Bill 1673) was debated Sunday by the House Personnel and Pensions Committee and, while the bill also blocks pensions from being based on union salaries, the new legislation would allow two teachers union lobbyists who previously qualified for public pensions because they substitute taught for just one day to remain on the program, the Chicago Tribune reports.
State Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park), the committee chairman, said he is sponsoring the new bill because he didn't believe the previous measure would have passed constitutional muster, according to CBS Chicago. His bill would only impact future pension earners.
"Our bill would say if they're in, unfortunately they're grandfathered in," McCarthy explained to CBS. "No one wants to give any of these guys a break who took advantage of the system, but we have do it constitutionally or else in reality we're doing nothing."
The matter concerns whether two former lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, David Piccioli and Steven Preckwinkle, will remain eligible for public pensions after teaching for one day each in the Springfield School District, the State Journal-Register. In addition to this abuse, several labor leaders are currently being investigated for pension double dipping -- concurrently earning pensions for both their state employment and union position.
Though House Democratic leaders believe the previous pension reform bill is unconstitutional, they did not vote on an amendment that would lessen the punishment for the pension abusers.
McCarthy’s bill, Senate Bill 1673, was sent to the floor of the House by a committee Sunday afternoon, but an amendment to roll back the crackdown on pension abuse was not attached to it. McCarthy said he intended to graft such language onto the bill before it was called for a vote. However, SB1673 was not called on Monday.
Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the bills weren’t called Monday because Republicans did not support them.
Senate Democrats and House Republicans believe Preckwinkle and Piccioli did violate a provision of the state constitution, and that lawmakers should be allowed to take away their pensions without a court challenge, which is why they are against McCarthy's amendment,SJ-R reports.
Pat Brady, the state's GOP chairman, described the House Democrats' bill as a sign that Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan was continuing "the Blagojevich tradition of selling the state to his financial supporters," NBC Chicago reports.
"After 40 plus years of wielding virtually unchecked power, it is clear that Mike Madigan operates in an alternate universe," Brady explained to NBC. "In the face of national outrage and a federal criminal investigation into this specific pension abuse, Madigan continues to treat our tax dollars as his personal political piggy bank."
The state Senate has yet to take up McCarthy's pension bill, nor has a vote by the full House yet been scheduled. Gov. Pat Quinn has previously indicated that he supports the stricter, original pension reform bill (HB 3813), according to an AP report.
Photo by jimbowen0306 via Flickr.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that a House committee voted to pass Senate Bill 1673 in its entirety. The amendment related to pension violators, however, was tabled and not brought to the floor for a vote. The committee approved the measure without that language.