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Emanuel’s gun sentence bill holstered in Springfield

The Rev. Jesse Jacksspeaks with lawmakers House floor during vesessiThursday Springfield.  |  Seth Perlman~AP

The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks with lawmakers on the House floor during the veto session on Thursday in Springfield. | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: December 9, 2013 11:09AM



SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s legislative offensive against lenient gun sentences stalled at the Capitol Thursday in the face of opposition from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and what the mayor derided as “political stunts” by a key bloc of black lawmakers.

As the House and Senate concluded their scheduled fall session, other issues wound up on the legislative cutting-room floor, as well, as lawmakers failed to act on state pension reform and a series of corporate tax incentives sought by Archer Daniels Midland and other companies.

But on guns, all signs pointed toward a quick vote in both legislative chambers Thursday on one of the mayor’s top fall priorities designed to answer rampant gun violence in the city.

His forces and those aligned with the National Rifle Association had struck a deal on a measure to increase minimum prison sentences for gang members and convicted felons who violate state gun laws. The plan also would have denied them the opportunity for military-style boot camp in lieu of prison.

Typically at odds, both sides of the gun-control debate agreed on that framework after a provision was removed Wednesday afternoon that could have inadvertently ensnared otherwise law-abiding gun owners who mistakenly run afoul of state gun laws.

But just as state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, the bill’s chief House sponsor, moved to call the bill for a vote in the House Thursday, it hit turbulence when a key black lawmaker worried the legislation punitively targeted young minority men and took a parliamentary step to slow down the bill.

The House then adjourned without taking action, prompting a blistering response from the mayor.

“I am disappointed that the opponents of this legislation have chosen political stunts over peoples’ safety to delay passage of a bill that will strengthen penalties and provide a deterrent for serious gun crimes,” the mayor said in a prepared statement.

“Criminals are the only winners when procedural games are used to defer a bill that clearly has the necessary votes in both chambers of the General Assembly,” Emanuel said.

Jackson, the famed civil rights leader, traveled to Springfield to lobby against the measure, saying the state’s focus should not be tilted so heavily on filling up the state’s prisons.

“Our jails are already overcrowded,” Jackson told reporters. “We need to focus not on [mandatory] minimum incarceration but focus on … jobs and education.”

State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, chairman of the Joint Legislative Black Caucus, put the brakes on Zalewski’s bill by filing notes that asked Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration to calculate the legislation’s financial impact.

“We want a bill that has a comprehensive approach toward dealing with getting bad guys off the street. We want that 100 percent,” Dunkin said. “The challenge with this bill still is there are collateral damages that will impact innocent people, potentially.”

The legislation’s prospects now appear fuzzy since lawmakers are not scheduled to return to the Capitol until Jan. 29 for the start of the spring session, though they could return earlier in the event of a pension breakthrough.

“We do enhancements down here every single year, and they fly out of the chamber,” Zalewski told reporters Thursday morning while acknowledging opposition from black lawmakers before the aborted vote.

“And all of a sudden, the one time we’re going to do enhancements for gun offenses, that’s the straw that’s going to break the camel’s back?” he asked.



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