Senate votes again to keep lawyers from getting part of tobacco money
For the second time this legislative session, the Illinois Senate approved a bill Friday to prevent lawyers from taking a portion of the state's tobacco settlement funds.
House Bill 3621, sponsored by Sen. John Maitland, R-Bloomington, would keep state-hired private law firms from collecting 10 percent of the state's $9.1 billion settlement (over 25 years) of a lawsuit against the tobacco companies.
Supporters argued that the $900 million was an excessive amount for the lawyers to collect and would take money away from anti-smoking and other state programs. Opponents argued that the lawyers took the risk of working on the tobacco settlement without making any money if the tobacco companies prevailed. They said the state should stand by the contract that Attorney General Jim Ryan signed.
The Senate passed a bill in February with the same language approved on Friday. The bill has not moved out of the House Rules Committee, a tactic often used by legislative leaders to kill legislation they do not support.
An aide to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said it was unlikely that HB 3261 would be passed from the Rules Committee, either.
The four law firms that represented the state argue that their contracts promised 10 percent of the state's award, or $910 million. One Chicago-based firm, Freeborn and Peters, was awarded $121 million from a national account set up to pay attorney's fee related to the massive lawsuit.
Robert Clifford, a Chicago attorney representing the four firms in their suit against the state's settlement, called the bill "special interest legislation."
"I was disappointed that the Senate has once again seen fit to interfere with the judicial branch of government's processing of this dispute," Clifford said.
The Senate Friday approved a $698 million spending bill to tide the state over until the end of the fiscal year June 30.
Of that, $325 million is direct state money while the remainder comes from other sources, primarily the federal government.
Some $481 million - more than two-thirds of the total - is going to the Department of Public Aid to cover the cost of providing health care to the poor. Senate budget experts contend the department grossly underestimated its expenses a year ago when the current state budget was being put together.
Without the additional money, Public Aid would have had to slow down payments to hospitals and doctors to stretch its budget through the end of the year. It was a budget trick used by the state during the height of its financial woes in the early 1990s.
The extra money for Public Aid also includes $15.3 million in state funds to cover the costs of the disastrous child-support enforcement program. Those costs involve overtime expenses, a $750,000 contract for Chicago-based Anexsys for a cleanup of computerized data, and a $1 million management contract with the Chicago office of Deloitte & Touche.
The spending bill also includes $2.8 million to pay salaries for 60 additional parole agents through the end of the year, $5.3 million for the Illinois State Police to buy 250 new cars and $6 million to the secretary of state's office to pay for repairs to the crumbling decorative ceilings in the House and Senate chambers.