Legislature should look at cleaner energy, criminal justice reform and pot laws in veto session

Though there are no gubernatorial vetoes in need of an override, the veto session could be used to push ahead on several big and pressing issues.

SHARE Legislature should look at cleaner energy, criminal justice reform and pot laws in veto session

The Illinois State Capitol

Seth Perlman/AP

There’s talk in Springfield of forgoing a legislative veto session this year because there are no gubernatorial vetoes to override.

But there are a number of pressing policy issues that ought to be addressed this fall all the same, rather than be put off to a later lame duck legislative session or next spring. Though new bills passed in a veto session can’t go into effect until July 1 unless approved by a super-majority vote, just knowing they’ll become law could make a difference.

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The Legislature’s six-day veto session is scheduled for Nov. 17 to 19 and Dec. 1 to 3.

The solar cliff

Among all the states, Illinois jumped to the head of the pack when it comes to the environment in 2016 with its Future Energy Jobs Act, a law creating a welcoming market for installing solar energy. But because of delays in acting on a successor law to provide new funding, the solar energy industry is leaving the state in what is being called a falling off of the “solar cliff.”

Illinois is estimated to have lost close to 3,500 solar jobs already, and 1,000 more jobs could be gone by the end of the year if the Legislature doesn’t provide at least several months of rollover funding.

Illinois has worked hard to become a leader in green energy, attracting jobs in the industry and improving the environment. The state has become an important home to businesses installing solar energy and making use of “community development” projects, in which property owners without good access to sunlight can share projects with other property owners.

Why let that industrial advantage slip away?

Theoretically, lawmakers during the veto session could vote, finally, on the larger proposed comprehensive Clean Energy Jobs Act, which includes a fix for the solar cliff. But that might be too heavy a lift for the veto session; Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s working groups on clean energy wrapped up their work in just the past week without setting a clear direction. The bill’s supporters are aiming instead for a vote in a lame-duck session before the newly elected Legislature is seated in January.

A stand-alone bill that keeps Illinois from falling off that solar cliff, by providing the continuing funding, would have to be designed so it does not undermine support for the larger Clean Energy Jobs Act. But if written carefully and approved during the veto session, it would signal to the solar industry that it’s worth hanging around in Illinois until the full CEJA goes into effect.

Police and criminal justice reform

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is working on a package of reforms for the veto session. Most pressing on its agenda are better police accountability and criminal justice reform. Among other caucus priorities are more resources for economic access, education, health care, human services and work force development.

The Black Caucus hasn’t filed bills, so it’s too soon to know if its reform proposals can be addressed fairly in a short veto session. Proposed reforms circulating around Springfield include ending cash bail, doing more to address mental health and addiction without involving the police, and updating police use-of-force standards.

What’s important is that the Legislature get launched on considering these issues. Police accountability and criminal justice reform have been overarching issues across the nation this year, as reflected in the thousands of people who have taken to the streets to protest.

Putting off the start of legislative debate would look like a replay of what we’ve seen in the past — big talk going nowhere until the moment passes. The optics would be especially bad now that a panel in Chicago put together by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Use of Force Community Working Group, complained earlier this month that the Chicago Police Department has rejected every one of its substantive reform recommendations.

Cannabis cleanup

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, says a cannabis follow-up bill is an issue that could be dealt with in the veto session. One change reformers are pushing is limiting the number of pot dispensary licenses that each applicant can ask for. At this point, the goal of achieving social equity in the granting of licenses has not worked out as well as lawmakers had hoped.

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