By DIANE ROSS
Sales tax issue steals the show
THIS YEAR it was the sales tax issue that stole the veto session show. The governor had called the legislature into special session to run concurrently with the veto session. However, the final analysis centered on new bills, allowed during the fall session as emergency measures. The 81st General Assembly eliminated the usury ceiling, bailed out Cook County Hospital and unburdened crowded prisons. Those bills grabbed most of the glory, eclipsing the earlier override of Thompson's veto of an anti-abortion bill.
When the Carter administration's tight money policy took effect last fall, the money market dried up in states with a usury ceiling. In Illinois, the mortgage makers were especially hard hit. The savings and loan associations, who finance most homes, were forced to pay Carter's higher 13.5 per cent interest rate. But under Illinois' usury ceiling, they couldn't charge more than 11 percent interest in return.
The savings and loans, realtors and contractors warned that the resulting slump in the housing market, coupled with the ensuing unemployment, would drag Illinois into a recession unless legislators eliminated the usury ceiling. Others argued that wouldn't necessarily ward off a recession. They accused the special interest groups of wanting to save themselves, not their customers, most of whom were already priced out of the market.
Legislators had to decide whether it was better to see the housing industry reduced to a slow shuffle or come to a complete standstill. They voted to keep it moving.
The bill Thompson signed into law November 9 eliminated the usury ceiling, allowing mortgage rates to fluctuate with the free market, until December 31, 1981. Mortgage rates are expected to reach 13 or 14 percent, as they are in states without ceilings.
The bill, H. B. 2811, sponsored by House Speaker William Redmond (D., Bensenville) and Minority Leader George Ryan (R., Kankakee) passed the House 139-16 and the Senate 46-7.
A similar measure to bolster the sagging auto sales industry, H. B. 2818 which was also co-sponsored by Redmond and Ryan, lifted the interest rates on loans financed through dealerships from 14.3 percent to 16.6 percent until April 31, 1981. It passed the House 114-33, the Senate 40-12, returned to the House for concurrence with Senate amendments and finally passed 131-19, effective immediately.
Since the usury issue is tied to inflation, some observers questioned whether eliminating the ceiling might cancel the effect of Carter's tight money policy. Most agreed it's only a temporary solution. When the ceiling returns in two years, Illinois could face the same situation because the usury rate is tied to the interest rate on long-term federal bonds, which is always lower than other indices such as the prime interest rate.
Rep. Doug Kane (D., Springfield), attempted a more far-reaching solution: rewriting the usury formula. But he was unsuccessful, apparently because the pressure to move quickly made most legislators reluctant to go that far. However, the General Assembly will undoubtedly be forced to tackle the problem again before 1982.
Another special bill was an emergency appropriation of $15 million to bail out the bankrupt Cook County Hospital. There were strings attached: control will shift from the Cook County Health and Hospital Governing Commission to the Cook County Board, which was expected to quickly turn operation over to a management consulting firm.
The board, whose members had said they couldn't raise taxes to bail out the hospital, charged the 10-year-old governing commission with bankrupting the hospital by mismanagement. Commission members said 30 percent of the hospital's patients were welfare cases, and they based the request for the state aid on the hospital's reputation as one of the largest to automatically admit patients whether or not they can afford it.
A second emergency appropriation saw $8.4 million approved for seven prison work camps. The camps, each to have a 54-inmate capacity, are designed to free beds in the state's overcrowded prisons. Department of Corrections director Gayle Franzen told legislators that Illinois prisons are short about 2,000 beds.
Five of the seven camps would be located near prisons in Pontiac, Sheridan, Vienna, Vandalia and Lincoin. The other two would be at the State Fairgrounds in Springfield and at a campsite in Lake County. At each camp, inmates would work under the supervision of a staff of 35 (mostly security guards), cleaning highways, clearings and waterways by day, and would return to the camps at night.
The override of Thompson's veto of the anti-abortion bill seemed to generate little real excitement among pro- or anti-abortion forces. However, the override was not surprising since the legislature has passed similar bills, the governor has vetoed them, the legislature has overridden him, and the courts have ruled the bills unconstitutional.
Thompson said in a detailed veto message that abortion has become a legal, rather than a moral issue. Constitutionality has been the only real question since the U. S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, according to Thompson.
The bill became law with the override, although the American Civil Liberties Union almost immediatly won a temporary injunction banning
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enforcement of some provisions.
The bill, S. B. 47, sponsored by Sen. Leroy Lemke (D., Chicago) is a revision of the 1975 Illinois abortion law.
Under the new law, a married woman must have the consent of her spouse and an unmarried woman under 18 the consent of her parents to obtain an abortion. The woman's physician must inform the spouse or parents, as well as the woman herself, of the risks and alternatives. The new law bars abortion by saline amniocentesis beyond the first trimester of pregnancy unless abortion by another method would endanger the woman's health. Saline amniocentesis is the most commonly used method of abortion.
Under the new law, the physician must attempt to save the fetus' life if he feels it has more than a "momentary" chance of survival with or without life-supporting facilities.
The bill passed the Senate 40-15 and the House 114-46; it was returned to the Senate for concurrence on House amendments and finally passed 35-17 on June 29.
Thompson vetoed the bill September 22, singling it out among bills in a package designed to tighten regulation of abortion clinics. Those bills, sponsored by Rep. John J. Cullerton (D., Chicago), Rep. Eugenia S. Chapman (D., Arlington Heights) and Rep. Richard F. Kelly Jr. (D., Hazel Crest), require annual inspections and set fines at $10,000 a day if substandard clinics refuse to cooperate.
"This bill, on the other hand, imposes a plethora of unreasonable restrictions on a woman's freedom of choice," Thompson said. "Its provisions .. . represent an attempt to prohibit abortions under the guise of regulation.
"A continuous series of judicial decisions has established a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion may not be so fettered by state regulation as to constitute an infringement of her individual liberties. The abiding moral convictions of those who support the principles contained in this bill are entitled to great respect," Thompson said. "However, in a government of laws, when individual moral, social, and ethical views clash with constitutionally protected liberties, the Constitution must always prevail."
The Senate overrode the veto 36-16 October 17 and the House 118-4 October 30, enacting the law.
The ACLU soon won a temporary injunction from U. S. District Judge Joel M. Flaum of Chicago banning the consent provision until the case has gone through the courts. Flaum said the waiting period provision could be enforced before the litigation is resolved.
The only surprise in the veto-special sessions, was the passage, in the House, of the so-called Totten Amendment. If approved by voters, it would write spending limits into the Illinois Constitution.
Thompson on October 30 called for just such action. "One year ago many of you, and I, campaigned vigorously on the need for government to respond to our citizens' outcries for limits on spending and taxes," he said in a message to the legislators. "The same people who elected you and me overwhelmingly demanded ceilings on taxes and spending at both the state and local level. ... To date, none of the many proposals introduced in the General Assembly to answer that demand have passed. This is the single most important piece of unfinished business on your agenda. The voters must be given a chance to approve limits on state taxes and spending. Limits on local spending must be enacted now in order to impact the 1980 tax bills."
Within hours, the House passed the measure, House Joint Constitutional Amendment 13, sponsored by Rep. Donald L. Totten (R., Hoffman Estates), which would limit state spending to 8 percent of the total personal income of Illinois residents.
Totten had failed to push the measure to a vote last spring. Only by dogged determination had he kept it alive when the legislature adjourned in July. Totten had engineered a similar measure through the House and Senate two years ago, only to see Thompson squash it.
The Totten Amendment was not what Thompson had in mind. He specifically suggested the General Assembly pass a measure sponsored by Sen. Prescott E. Bloom (R., Peoria) which ties the increased general funds appropriations (except for road construction) to the growth in personal income. Like Totten's measure, Bloom's would be submitted to voters as a constitutional amendment.
The Totten Amendment left the House on a 116-40 vote, but when it reached the Senate, it was promptly put in committee, where the Bloom Amendment, also earmarked for consideration next spring, lies in wait.
Including the special session, the House was in session seven days; and the Senate 10. This fall, the 81st General Assembly took action on 220 pieces of vetoed legislation.
Some 1,263 bills had passed both houses after the spring session. Of those, the governor vetoed 129; the legislature overrode 27, but let 102 stand. Another 99 bills were amendatorily vetoed with four overridden, 87 accepted and 8 not acted upon. The governor reduced 22 appropriations; the legislature overrode nine, but let 13 stand.
For the record, then, the 81st General Assembly overrode 27 Thompson vetoes. His predecessor, Democratic Gov. Dan Walker had only 38 vetoes overridden in four years. Thompson has had 44 vetoes overridden in three years.
Some observers say it's a sign Thompson hasn't done too well with the legislature. But that's not necessarily the case. Legislators have had the chance to override vetoes for only 10 years or so because the so-called veto sessions weren't encouraged until 1971 under the new Constitution. As the veto sessions have become more routine, the number of overrides has increased.
The deadline for action during the veto session was November 1, but the emergency measures and special session kept legislators in Springfield until November 9. They will return January 9 as the 81st General Assembly reconvenes for the second half of its two-year term.
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