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Marriage Equality Bill Stalled In Illinois Senate; Bill Tacked Onto Car Rental Legislation (UPDATED)

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 3, 2013 11:25PM

A couple join into a civil union in Chicago in June 2011. Chicago Man

UPDATE 6:30 p.m.: The legislation passed the Senate Executive Committee, and it could come to a vote before the House on Tuesday.

Legislators sponsoring the marriage equality legislation in Springfield are pulling out all the stops in order to keep the bill alive and ensure its passage before the new state Legislature is sworn in Jan. 9.

The bill has suffered a couple of setbacks since legislators returned for the current lame duck session Wednesday. A move by Senate Democrats to fast-track the bill was stalled by their Republican counterparts. State Sen. Heather Steans, one of the bill’s sponsors, decided to move with the first reading of the bill with a few of its supporters absent.

One of those supporters, Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa), is tending to the recent death of her mother. Another, State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) is in Israel. Yet a third, Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville) is tending to his own family emergency. Tack that onto efforts by religious groups, including Chicago Cardinal Francis George, to mount opposition to the bill and Steans’ move to fast track the bill looks like a tactical error.

But Steans knows there’s more than one way to get a bill passed in Springfield and she decided to add the legislation onto HB4963, a bill that deals with automobile rentals and the Collateral Recovery Act. This is a common practice among state legislators looking to have their legislation heard. But if Steans had the necessary votes in place when the new session started Wednesday, she wouldn’t have had to resort to this. Testimony on the bill is now being heard but Senate President John Cullerton told the Sun-Times a vote would not be expected Thursday.

When will a vote happen? Most likely Jan. 8, the last full day of the current lame duck session, according to Rich Miller. Even with a Democratic majority, Cullerton said the bill needs bipartisan support for it to pass. So Steans is short on votes and short on time, for now.

While the bill remains stalled, supporters and opponents of the legislation are rallying the troops. One group, the National Organization for Marriage, vowed to form a political action committee in Illinois and spend up to $250,000 to vote out any Republican legislator who supports the bill. Apparently they and other conservatives aren't happy with Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady's support for the legislation. McLean County GOP Chairman John Parrot called for Brady to step down as state party chair.

Brady, to his credit, has only dug in his heels as the criticism increases.

"Ask yourself this: How has it been for us (Republicans) in Illinois for the past 15 years?" Mr. Brady said in a phone chat this morning, referring to a series of election setbacks by the GOP. "How are we ever going to get the vote of anyone under 40?"