Equal Pay, Pot Bills Test Rauner's Social Agenda

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 22, 2015 | Go to article overview

Equal Pay, Pot Bills Test Rauner's Social Agenda


Byline: Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Throughout his campaign for governor, Bruce Rauner asserted he didn't have a social agenda and was focused solely on Illinois' deepening financial crisis.

He'll now be forced to stake out positions on a range of social issues thanks to the majority-Democrat General Assembly passing proposals this spring that would, among other things, reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, ban therapists from trying to change a young person's sexuality and ensure employers pay women at rates equal to men.

Any of the bills could spark the controversy the first-term Republican hoped to bypass.

"The campaign was all about laying low on all the social issues and stressing the tax and economic issues," said John Jackson, a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. "This is time to begin to find out where he really stands."

Rauner hasn't signaled how he'll proceed. Six months after taking office, he still refuses to detail his stance on same-sex marriage or immigration reform. When pressed about four issues in particular -- decriminalizing marijuana, legalizing the drug for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, requiring equal pay and banning gay conversation therapy -- a Rauner spokeswoman emailed a standard reply: "The governor will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk."

How Rauner acts could further complicate his relationships in Springfield. Signing the bills may irritate his GOP base, while vetoing could irk Democrats. He's already deadlocked with Democrats over a state spending plan and is trying to influence public perception through critical television ads. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has accused Rauner of being "extreme" in budget talks. He's also in the middle of negotiations with Illinois' largest public employee union after some aggressive attempts to curb union power.

"He doesn't want to make a lot of public policy statements, which is pretty odd for a governor," said Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, who's sponsored marijuana-related bills. "But just because he said that doesn't mean he has abdicated his role as governor."

Democrats have denied the bills are an effort to test Rauner publicly, saying each one stands on its merits, and that several of these issues have cropped up before. …

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