Senate Week in Review: August 14-18, 2023

SPRINGFIELD – A bipartisan bill that would have eased Illinois’ four-decade-old ban on building new nuclear reactors has been vetoed by the Governor, setting up a potential override showdown.

In other news, legislation targeting the gun industry was signed by the Governor over the weekend, but the new law now faces a federal legal battle.

With the deadline approaching for the Governor to act on legislation that passed the General Assembly this spring, two measures signed into law establish higher education scholarship programs.

Governor vetoes bipartisan nuclear legislation

On Aug. 11, Gov. JB Pritzker issued a full veto of Senate Bill 76, which would have ended Illinois’ decades-old ban on the construction of advanced nuclear reactors.

Senate Bill 76 garnered strong bipartisan support, receiving a 36-14 vote in the Senate and an 84-22 vote in the House of Representatives. Despite the wide margins of passage, the Governor’s veto message cited his concerns that the definition of an advanced nuclear reactor was “overly broad” and could allow for the building of large nuclear facilities.

In response to the Governor’s veto, proponents of Senate Bill 76 pointed out that the legislation was amended before its final passage to narrowly define what constitutes an advanced nuclear reactor using federal law with the intent that only small modular reactors could be built.

State Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) says this legislation would also have assisted in Illinois’ ongoing energy goals to build a cleaner, stronger, and more robust power supply. As wind and solar alone cannot fulfill the state’s energy needs, this legislation would have helped bridge the gap, she added.

Tracy says she hopes Senate and House leaders will allow the bill to be called for an override vote during the upcoming fall Veto Session.

Legislation targeting gun industry signed into law, but faces legal challenge

Over the weekend, Gov. Pritzker signed House Bill 218, which allows the Attorney General, counties, and private citizens to sue members of the firearm industry for vaguely defined so-called “unlawful business and marketing practices.”

Proponents claim the new law is intended to clarify that the gun industry is subject to Illinois’ Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act for marketing firearms, accessories and related products in a way that promotes illegal paramilitary or private militia activity in Illinois or that encourages people younger than age 18 to illegally possess, purchase, or use firearms.

Opponents of the new law note that the gun industry is already subject to the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, like every other business. The changes within House Bill 218 have very little, if anything, to do with actual consumer fraud or deceptive business practices. Opponents also point out that House Bill 218 was intentionally written with broad language to make it easier for the Attorney General and anti-gun groups to target gun manufacturers and Federal Firearms Licenses to put them out of business.

Two days after the Governor signed House Bill 218, opponents of the law filed a lawsuit in the federal Southern District of Illinois that claims the new law violates the First Amendment right to free speech, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and the 14th Amendment guarantee of due process. The lawsuit also claims that the law imposes liability in Illinois for actions committed by other individuals or in other states and is preempted by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

Higher education scholarship bills become law

On Aug. 11, the Governor signed bills directed at establishing scholarship programs to attract talented high school graduates to attend Illinois universities and colleges.

Cosponsored by Tracy, House Bill 301 permanently establishes Illinois’ Aspirational Institutional Match Helping Illinois Grow Higher Education (AIM HIGH) Grant Pilot Program. AIM HIGH was originally a statewide pilot program that provided merit-based scholarships to Illinois high school graduates to incentivize more high-achieving students to attend Illinois public universities, rather than them taking out-of-state offers with the chance they never return.

House Bill 1378 establishes the Illinois Graduate and Retain Our Workforce (iGROW) Tech Scholarship Program to award scholarships that can be used to recruit and train individuals to work in technology jobs that have a high demand for new employees and offer high wages. Scholarships may be made through the 2029-2030 academic year for a maximum of eight academic semesters.

Tracy says both scholarship programs should help the state deal with the ongoing “brain drain” of young, talented high school graduates and help ensure that Illinois’ workforce remains full of strong and qualified candidates.

Jil Tracy

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