Springfield — Illinois House Democrats were in a celebratory mood after passing measures that would ban the sale and possession of certain high-powered firearms and expand abortion protections, but those feelings quickly gave way to uncertainty as the state Senate left Springfield on Friday without taking up either proposal.
Senators are scheduled to return to the Capitol late Sunday, less than 24 hours before Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker will be sworn in for a second term. A ban on so-called assault weapons after the mass shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade and the expansion of abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade were key pillars of Pritzker’s reelection campaign.
Approval of the House measures in the Democratic-controlled Senate would hand Pritzker a pair of legislative victories on the eve of his inauguration. But the Senate was working on its own versions of both proposals, which, if passed, would need to go back to the House for approval before heading to the governor’s desk.
Pritzker, who made a rare appearance on the House floor for the debate on the gun bill, expressed optimism as he left the chamber following the vote early Friday morning that the House and Senate would reach a consensus on that issue.
“I know we’re going to get a bill done,” he told reporters.
A spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon said both the gun measure and new protections for abortion providers and patients are “critically important issues.”
“The Senate Democratic caucus is committed to enacting the most effective legislation possible,” John Patterson, a spokesman for the Oak Park Democrat, said in a statement. “Senators are giving these proposals an extensive review and careful evaluation.”
A new General Assembly will be sworn in Wednesday, at which point any proposal that hasn’t passed both chambers would have to start again at the beginning of the legislative process.
The gun legislation, which bans certain semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, passed 64-43 after close to two hours of debate that stretched from Thursday evening into the early hours of Friday.
Outgoing House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs was the lone GOP lawmaker to vote in favor of the legislation, while four Democrats — Anthony DeLuca of Chicago Heights, Larry Walsh of Elwood, Lance Yednock of Ottawa and Michael Halpin of Rock Island — voted against the bill.
Democratic state Sen. Ram Villivalam said before the House vote that the Senate was committed to passing bans on high-powered firearms and high-capacity magazines, but would look beyond the bill that passed before taking action.
“We are just making sure that we have, in addition to looking at the House version of the legislation, we have all of the input from stakeholders to ensure that we’re passing a common sense gun-safety measure that is rooted in data, that’s rooted in taking one big proactive step to solve this challenge of mass shooting after mass shooting,” said Villivalam, of Chicago.
“We’re working to ensure that we make the experience for responsible gun owners and (firearm owner’s identification card) owners unchanged and address the gun violence epidemic that we have in this country,” he said.
The measure was prompted by the Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park that left seven people dead and dozens more injured. State Rep. Bob Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat who marched in the parade with his family, led negotiations in the House.
“This is not a unique situation. And I left that day thinking I will do whatever I can, whatever is in my power to make sure none of us, none of you, none of your communities go through what we went through, and yet I failed,” Morgan said on the House floor moments before the vote.
“Because within three days of the Fourth of July shooting there were more gun deaths throughout the state of Illinois than that day on the Fourth of July in Highland Park. So I failed. And I literally have been carrying that on my shoulders to this moment as we stand here right now.”
In his opening remarks prior to floor debate, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who filed an updated version of the bill on Thursday, sought to erase concerns that, if passed, the measure would lead to guns being taken away from law-abiding citizens. The proposal gives people who already own the high-powered weapons that would be banned about a year to register them with law enforcement.
“It’s important to highlight that. We are not taking any guns away from lawful gun owners, said Welch, a Hillside Democrat.
In siding with the Democrats, Durkin said he was sensitive to the rights of gun owners, including their right of self-defense. But he said he was “sickened by the shootings everywhere in the state with these types of weapons.”
Paraphrasing the late conservative U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde of Wood Dale, who supported the federal assault weapon ban in the 1990s, Durkin said, “The Founding Fathers did not contemplate these weapons of mass destruction that teenagers and grievance killers would use a bazooka.”
Other Republicans questioned the constitutionality of the bill and said they felt it would make criminals of law-abiding citizens.
Rep. Tony McCombie, a Savanna Republican who will be taking over as House Republican leader next week, said the measure would not stop gun violence in Illinois.
“This bill does not address the real issues and the solutions to those issues,” McCombie said. “It’s going to make it harder for law enforcement to do their job.”
GOP Rep. Dan Caulkins of Decatur asked Morgan how his ownership of guns could pose a threat to other people.
Morgan said “gun owners were lawful until they’re not.”
“The fact that these weapons are not just causing harm on the intended victims, they’re increasingly being used to cause harm to innocent bystanders,” Morgan said. “That is the harm. We’re talking about literally people dying of gun deaths. So I don’t really know how to explain that if you don’t understand.”
“You’re going after my Second Amendment rights,” Caulkins said, lamenting he wouldn’t be allowed to carry a 15-round magazine for his gun, an accessory that is very common for semi-automatic handguns.
Republican Rep. Andrew Chesney of Freeport criticized Durkin’s support of the bill without naming him, and blamed Durkin’s leadership contributing to the GOP’s loss of five House seats in the Nov. 8 election.
“If you’re not frustrated about what you’ve heard out of our leadership’s mouth tonight, you should be. And if you want to know why our numbers dwindle … you just saw why,” he said to his fellow Republicans.
“We go from 45 to 40 because we join and we stand for nothing. But we’re right,” Chesney said. “And so us as Republicans, we better get on the same page right now because if we see the nonsense that we just saw, the Republican Party will not exist in the state of Illinois.”
Republicans were unified in opposition to the abortion rights measure from Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, which was approved on a 67-41 vote. Democratic Rep. Sue Scherer of Decatur voted with the GOP against the bill.
The proposal would allow advanced practice registered nurses and physicians assistants to perform abortion procedures that don’t require general anesthesia. Providers and advocates have said that would help meet surging demand from out-of-state patients.
The measure also seeks to prevent health care providers from losing their Illinois licenses solely because they’ve had their license revoked in another state for performing a procedure that’s legal in Illinois.
Cassidy said the plan will “protect patients and providers from undue interference from hostile states” that have adopted new restrictions after the June Supreme Court ruling and “shore up” the right to privacy the high court left diminished at the federal level.
The measure also offers protections for providers of gender-affirming health care services, which also are seeing new restrictions in other states.
Rep. Avery Bourne, a Republican from downstate Morrisonville, argued that the legislation “is an expansion that goes beyond what most Illinoisans think is appropriate.”
Separately, a measure that would allow Chicago Public Schools’s principals to unionize now awaits Pritzker’s signature after it passed in the Senate later Friday morning with a 45-7 vote. The bill, which would not allow principals to go on strike, was passed by the House in March.