Senate Week in Review: May 6-10, 2019

Controversy surrounding Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis dominated the week, while a MAP grant expansion proposal that could cost current college students tuition assistance also generated headlines.

Also during the week, hunter safety classes could soon be available in Illinois high schools.

 Controversial version of cannabis legalization bill filed

Gov. Pritzker and Democrat sponsors of Senate Bill 7 unveiled their proposal to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The legislation would make it legal for adult residents 21 years of age and older to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis or 5 grams of concentrated cannabis. People would also be allowed to grow five plants in their homes if the plants are secured within their residences.

Non-residents would only be allowed to possess 15 grams of cannabis or 2.5 grams in concentrated form.

The plan also contains what supporters have referred to as a social justice component that is designed to reduce the negative impact that the national war on drugs has had on some communities and individuals. The first part would create an expungement process for people convicted of certain drug offenses. While this component had been discussed as a part of negotiations for quite some time, the actual bill that was filed takes the idea quite a bit further. The legislation would allow for the expungement of offenses that would remain illegal even if the bill passes. While individuals would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis under the proposed rules, convictions for possession of up to 500 grams, a Class 4 felony, would be eligible for expungement. The Administration estimated it could lead to the expungement of up to 800,000 convictions. Critics noted that the bill would include expungements for things that would still be crimes even if the bill passes.

Another part of the social justice component would create a “Restoring our Communities” (ROC) program that would send funding to areas affected by the war on drugs. The legalization bill would also focus on helping people from affected areas and underserved communities to be able to get business licenses to profit off of the new industry that it would create, including a $20 million low-interest low program. Critics noted that the cost of the loans and the ROC grants could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars for new programs during tight budgetary times, and that a proper balance needs to be struck between new spending and paying old bills.

Controversial map grant bill could lead to less college funding for Illinois students

A new Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant proposal is stirring up controversy in the General Assembly. House Bill 2691 would expand eligibility for MAP grants to illegal or undocumented immigrants along with those who fail to register for selective service.

According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, expanding the pool of MAP grant recipients to include these groups could increase the cost of the program by $9 million per year. Because there is not enough funding for the current program, there is a significant waiting list of students who have applied and qualify for MAP grants. With this bill passing, it now potentially adds 3,500 to 4,000 undocumented to the program which means thousands of students who are legal citizens will lose out on receiving these grants. State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) voted against the legislation when it came before the Senate.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 35 to 15 and is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

Hunter safety courses soon to be taught in schools

Students could soon hit the books to learn about hunting safety, under a measure currently moving through the Senate. House Bill 3462 would give school districts the option to include hunting safety classes in their curriculum as a unit of instruction on hunting education.

The plan would require the State Board of Education to prepare and distribute instructional materials that may be used as guidelines for development of classes teaching hunting education.

Current Illinois law requires anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, to present a valid Hunter Education Certificate of Competency issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Safety Education Division or another state before being issued a hunting license.

Many states are now requiring adult hunters to furnish evidence of having completed a hunter education course prior to issuance of a non-resident license. An Illinois Hunter Safety Education certificate is accepted by all other states.

The plan, which unanimously passed out of the House of Representatives, and is currently on 2nd reading in the Senate after clearing a Senate committee earlier this week.

  

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