SPRINGFIELD — With Gov. Bruce Rauner officially a lame duck, the state Senate on Wednesday spent part of the fall veto session overriding the governor’s veto of a bill raising the legal age for tobacco to 21 and another he dubbed a “very important bad” immigration bill.
That measure would have sped up the handling of cases involving immigrant victims who help police and prosecutors bring criminals to justice. The Illinois House will likely take up both measures on Thursday.
Last year, Rauner drew praise from pro-immigration groups and scorn from conservatives for signing the Trust Act, which prohibits police in Illinois from detaining or arresting a person based on their immigration status or on a federal immigration detainer.
But this year, Democrats spent months chiding the embattled Republican governor for vetoing three immigration measures in August.
One, the Voices Act, would require Illinois law enforcement to sign off on immigration paperwork within 90 business days for immigrant victims who help police and prosecutors bring criminals to justice. Federal officials already offer immigration visas for victims of violence, but the federal law doesn’t offer a deadline for that certification to occur. Lawmakers wanted a deadline for immigrants who are often left in legal limbo.
In his veto message, the governor said the bill would mark a “significant change of law concerning the obligations of law enforcement agencies.” He also stressed that it would have been an “unfunded mandate upon already strained State, local and federal law enforcement agencies beyond justifiable law enforcement need.”
But Democrats painted the measure as a victims’ rights tool, and a way to protect victims of human trafficking and other heinous crimes.
On Wednesday, the Illinois Senate voted 40-12 to override the governor — with Senate President John Cullerton calling Rauner’s veto a “mistake.”
“Just as lawmakers have come together to raise awareness and fight back against human trafficking, we came together to make sure the existing process works for these victims,” Cullerton said in a statement after the override. “This system was created to empower victims to come forward knowing they’ll be protected if they help us bring to justice the people behind these horrible crimes.”
The federal government in 2000 created special immigration visas for victims of human trafficking and other crimes — such as abduction, kidnapping, female genital mutilation, incest, murder, sexual assault and slave trade — who work with police.
“Immigrants should not be living in fear or hiding in the shadows. Teachers, business owners, social workers, childcare givers, police officers, firefighters, communities depend on them,” state Rep. Juliana Stratton, D-Chicago, said at a press conference prior to the Senate override. “We have to ensure that victims of crime feel safe reporting those crimes to the appropriate authorities regardless of citizenship and when crimes go unreported, the perpetrators of those crimes go unsolved, making communities less safe for the victims and less safe for everyone else.”
Stratton is poised to become lieutenant governor, after her running mate, J.B. Pritzker, beat Rauner in the governor’s race last week.
The Senate also voted 36 to 19 to override legislation that would increase the age to legally purchase tobacco products in Illinois to 21. The measure, which also raised the age to purchase vaping devices, would make Illinois the sixth state in the country to raise the age, which supporters believe will reduce the number of high school students who use tobacco products.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate failed to override the governor’s veto of a measure that would remove the state from the Crosscheck voter registration system. But senators are expected to try again for an override. Democrats say the measure would help protect voter information, but Republicans say the extra check is needed to make sure voters aren’t also registered elsewhere.