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Lawmaker plans to push medical marijuana bill

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 9:12 a.m. CST

(MCT) — The sponsor of a measure to let Illinois residents use marijuana for medical purposes said Monday he's closing in on collecting enough votes to pass the bill in the House.

Rep. Lou Lang said his "nose count" has him at or near the 60 votes needed for approval of a three-year trial medical marijuana program.

"If members vote their consciences, I'll have the votes," said Lang, D-Skokie.

The Senate has approved similar legislation before; the House has been the stumbling block. Last year, Lang fell a handful of votes short.

One big difference between now and then is that the election is in the past. There will be three dozen lawmakers in the House and Senate who are not coming back in the next General Assembly, making them lame ducks. Their votes are more likely to be up for grabs given that they are not expected to face the voters again.

The medical marijuana bill is one of several pieces of high-profile legislation that could come up as the General Assembly returns to the Capitol on Tuesday for the annual fall session.

Lawmakers will decide whether to try to override Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of a major gambling expansion bill. The governor cited a need for stronger ethical safeguards in the measure, which includes a Chicago casino that Mayor Rahm Emanuel covets.

Supporters could push a separate bill that would ban campaign contributions from casino interests and address some of the governor's other ethics concerns. Another potential scenario would be to iron out a new version of the gambling bill.

The state's shaky finances also are expected to be talked about in the next two weeks, if not resolved. On Monday, Quinn budget director Jerry Stermer warned a House committee that the growing costs of pensions are putting a tighter "squeeze" on all other government operations, ranging from public safety to education.

The retirement systems are costing as much as $1 billion a year more from funds that are shared with other programs. Lawmakers already saw education funding cut in the current budget.

Stermer said the worry is that the pension payments, without changes to rein in spending, could go from eating up roughly 16 percent of overall general operating funds to 25 percent within a few years and put Illinois finances in even worse shape.

The governor's budget point man gave his testimony as lawmakers heard arguments on a measure that would basically freeze the amount of money set aside for union salaries even as negotiations continue.

Any overhaul on public pensions is more likely to arise in early January, when fewer votes would be needed to pass legislation than while lawmakers are in session during the next two weeks.

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