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Legislators give voters a say on pensions

Updated: May 3, 2012 4:34PM

SPRINGFIELD — Voters will get to decide this fall whether to make it tougher on state legislators to pass pension enhancements under a constitutional amendment that passed the Senate overwhelmingly Thursday.

But another proposed constitutional amendment giving victims of violent crimes new legal rights withered under a push by state prosecutors.

The pension proposal, which passed the Senate 51-2, would require that any pension sweeteners pass the House and Senate by a three-fifths majority. Now, those enhancements typically require a simple majority.

The idea, originally pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), comes as a response to the state’s crushing pension liabilities, which now exceed $80 billion, and an array of pension abuses that have been reported on by the Chicago Sun-Times and other media outlets for decades.

The pension measure was the only constitutional amendment ratified Thursday, which was a deadline to get constitutional amendments on the fall ballot.

Another proposed constitutional change that appeared to have overwhelming support — an amendment giving victims of violent crimes new legal rights — fizzled out Thursday, just days after versions of it passed overwhelmingly in both the state House and Senate.

The measure, named Marsy’s Law in honor of a California murder victim, would have amended the state Constitution and ensured that victims of murder or rape and their families are informed about new court proceedings, plea bargains, and had their safety considered at bail hearings, among other things.

State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the amendment’s House sponsor, was frustrated by what he called the “unfortunate” lobbying efforts of state’s attorneys groups that happened in the late-stages of the legislative process.

“If they had come to me early on, we probably could have worked out all the problems,” Lang said. “The simple matter is they just simply don’t want other people around looking at what they do.”

The Constitution already has language concerning victims’ rights, but proponents of the amendment say the change would give victims a way to actually enforce those rights.

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