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By JOHN O’CONNOR
AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield for its fall session this week with a light agenda borne of an upcoming election season and an unwillingness to tackle prickly issues in the short fall-session timeline.
Help for Chicago in dealing with an influx of migrants from the nation’s southern border apparently will wait. But Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s vetoes of legislation to allow installation of small nuclear reactors and to bolster workplace privacy are among the issues in play.
Lawmakers are scheduled to gavel in Tuesday through Thursday and Nov. 7-9. The annual fall gathering, which is referred to as the veto session, has an agenda this year of just six vetoes. The session is also known for settling major issues not related to vetoes, but there’s less of an appetite as legislators gather signatures to be on next fall’s election ballot.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson had urged financial help from Springfield in housing and caring for more than 14,000 migrants who have been bused to Chicago in the past year. They’ve mostly come from Texas at the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, as migrants from Central and South America cross the U.S. southern border seeking asylum. But the signal from Springfield was clear: Not now.
The funding delay means more time in the spring session to solidify a solution, including pushing the federal government to take the lead, said Rep. Kambium Buckner, a Chicago Democrat involved in the talks.
“Mayor Johnson is doing all he can, given what he has,” Buckner said. “We have to be more pointed with the Biden administration about the situation here on the ground and what we need.”
Pritzker also vetoed legislation to allow development of modular power-producing nuclear reactors. It would lift a 1987 moratorium on new nuclear generators and won approval in both houses with 3/5th majorities, the margin necessary to overcome a veto.
Sponsoring Sen. Sue Rezin, a Republican from Morris, said she has enough support to overcome the veto — if the measure is called for a vote. Pritzker said he issued his veto at the request of House Democratic leaders. When the veto was handed down, House Majority Leader Robyn Gabel, an Evanston Democrat, reiterated fears of environmental groups.
“Our rules, regulations and oversight of nuclear plants is not properly updated to safely accommodate such a dramatic change,” Gabel said in a statement. “Unresolved issues regarding waste are also concerning.”
The moratorium was to be in effect until the federal government had established a permanent disposal site for spent fuel rods.
Rezin said waste is stored safely at the state’s 11 large-scale reactors. The Small Modular Reactors in her proposal produce far less waste, are much less expensive to build and maintain than the large plants and can be installed on location of large energy users, such as a steel mill.
“You can put an SMR right on the site of old coal plants, allowing the use of the infrastructure that’s on site and the transmission lines at the coal plants,” Rezin said. “And you’d have a skilled work force.”
Rezin said nuclear power will be a necessary part of meeting the state’s requirement to produce nothing but carbon-free power by 2045. It can’t rely solely on solar and wind power alone, she said, adding concerns with disposal of electric-car batteries and wind turbines. The carbon-free plan Pritzker signed in 2021 includes a $700 million subsidy to Exelon to keep two unprofitable nuclear plants open to reach the clean-energy goal.
Another piece of legislation whose veto is up for review is one that provides employees an opportunity to show they are allowed to work if the federal government finds a discrepancy in their name or Social Security number. Employers may not fire the employees without giving them 30 days of unpaid leave to work out the discrepancy, while also providing other rights and protections.
Pritzker’s veto was only because of drafting errors in the measure and the governor generally supports greater worker protections.