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State Senate to vote on gay marriage bill on Valentine’s Day, Senate president says

Illinois Senate President John Cullertdiscusses pensions with Sun-Times Editorial Board Sun-Times office Thursday January 31 2013. | JessicKoscielniak ~ Sun-Times

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton discusses pensions with the Sun-Times Editorial Board at the Sun-Times office, Thursday January 31, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: March 2, 2013 12:10PM



SPRINGFIELD — Valentine’s Day might wind up being more than just a day of romance for Illinois’ gay and lesbian couples.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) wants Feb. 14 to be the day his legislative chamber votes to legalize gay marriages in Illinois.

“I’d like to pass it out of committee next week and pass it on Valentine’s Day,” Cullerton told the Chicago Sun-Times in a meeting Thursday with the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

Cullerton said he believes the legislation, Senate Bill 10, has the necessary 30 votes to pass and move to the House, clearing a major hurdle in making Illinois the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriages.

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill’s Senate chief sponsor, and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief House sponsor, have been working to tweak legislation that surfaced and stalled in January.

The aim is to appease religious organizations worried about being forced to permit gay marriage receptions at a Knights of Columbus hall, for example, or at a church deemed a public gathering place because it is used as a polling place or a venue for community events such as a Weight Watchers meeting.

“I think under the language we’re working on, everyone is a lot more comfortable there’s no threat of a religious place having to open up to a religious ceremony if they don’t want to,” Steans told the Sun-Times.

Meanwhile, on another significant issue in Springfield, Cullerton said he is open to a GOP demand to include judges in his plan to solve Illinois’ $95 billion pension crisis — a bill he said he hopes to have the Senate vote on by late February.

In every pension-reform plan that’s surfaced thus far, the 984 members of the Judges Retirement System of Illinois have been left out because of a constitutional protection against having their salaries be “diminished” and worries judges would block a pension deal on legal grounds.

Yet, the judges’ pension system, like every other state retirement fund, is seriously awash in red ink.

As of last June, it had $1.4 billion more in obligations to current and future retirees than it had cash on hand to pay for them — all the while providing judges with an average $117,564 annual annuity, the most well-heeled pension afforded anyone in Illinois’ five retirement systems.

Cullerton said he is considering including a provision in his pension package, Senate Bill 1, to require judges to make a choice between annual 3-percent compounded cost-of-living increases or state-subsidized health insurance.

But he stressed that he didn’t see that as making a major dent in the state’s worst-in-the-country pension debt.

“Virtually every judge will keep the compounded COLA. As a result, we’ll save money on judges’ health-care costs, but it won’t benefit the pension system one bit. There’s so few of them [that] it would be miniscule savings,” he warned.

The determining factor in whether to include judges in a pension package, Cullerton said, is whether “I pick up votes or lose votes” by adding the provision.

A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said that addition has been one of her boss’ demands in a pension deal.

“To somehow not include judges because you think they might rule more favorably [on a broad pension package], that’s just ludicrous,” said Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont).

“Sen. Radogno has long believed [a pension package] ought to be comprehensive and include all five systems because this may be the only opportunity we get to do pension reform,” Schuh said.

Cullerton also weighed in on one other issue during his appearance Thursday — the political future of the state’s embattled governor, Pat Quinn, who is facing a potential Democratic primary challenge in 2014 from Attorney General Lisa Madigan and William Daley, brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Cullerton said if a primary does materialize against Quinn, he won’t endorse the incumbent or anyone else in the race.

“The last time he ran,” Cullerton said of Quinn, “he had a primary, and [House Speaker Michael] Madigan and I stayed out of it.”

But Cullerton made clear he is not one who believes the speaker would have to step down from his powerful leadership post to avoid a potential conflict of interest if Lisa Madigan defeated Quinn and went on to win a general election.

Stressing his own independence in such a scenario, Cullerton said, “We aren’t a unicameral Legislature, and I’m not a part of their family.”

While Cullerton is not a blood relative of the Madigan clan, he is godfather to the speaker’s son, Andrew Madigan.



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