Quick Hit Matthew Blake Friday June 1st, 2012, 5:04pm

Early Release Program & Gambling Bill Advance; Detention Center Ban & Tenaska Bills Die

The Illinois spring legislative session ended last night, meaning state lawmakers will meet just once again the rest of the year, for a brief fall veto session, though Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to convene lawmakers this summer to pass pension legislation.

Key legislative items were decided, including the House rejecting a bill to effectively ban a federal immigrant detention center, but passing a bill to bring back an early release prison program.

A measure to keep Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from building a detention center in Crete, to be operated by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America, barely failed in the House, by a 57-58 vote. The bill would have placed a moratorium on for-profit detention centers.

In a statement, the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights scolded a bipartisan group of largely suburban lawmakers whose votes helped to defeat the bill. ICIRR rattled off demographic statistics that show growing minority, and presumably immigrant, populations in these lawmaker’s districts.

The detention center’s future now will be decided by both federal ICE, and the village of Crete, which has yet to take a stand on the facility but indicated support for the facility’s possible economic benefits. State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, (D-Chicago Heights) whose district includes Crete, cast a vote for the bill, noting that a group of Crete residents formed to oppose the detention center.

A bill monitored by progressives that fared better will return an early release prison program for which sentence credits will be awarded to certain non-violent offenders. The bill passed the House 68-50, with proponents successfully casting the proposal as relief for the state’s overcrowded prisons and underfunded Department of Corrections.

The bill now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who yanked a prior early release program in 2010, after it was a source of controversy during his gubernatorial race. The governor 's office tells PI Quinn is currently reviewing the legislation.

The gambling expansion bill also passed the General Assembly and would significantly expand legalized gaming in Illinois, including the addition of a casino in Chicago. As PI reported, there is an enthusiastic chorus of gambling proponents, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who claims more gaming means more jobs and state revenue. However, Quinn will certainly veto the legislation, and the measure currently lacks the Senate votes to overcome a veto.

One measure that faded from public view is to build is an energy plant in Taylorville to be operated by Tenaska, Inc., a Nebraska company. The company literally retreated home earlier this week, despite the bill clearing the Senate last fall and the company's proposal to initially operate the plant on less expensive natural gas, than converting downstate coal to gas.

Tenaska blames the lobbying of Commonwealth Edison for the plant not getting a vote in the House, though the bill also included evironmental opponents like the Sierra Club. 

It is not clear if the Tenaska project, which has been kicking around for years, is permanently dead or could find another life in the fall veto session.


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