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U.S. Senate approves immigration reform

June 29, 2013

U.S. CapitolIn Washington, D.C. …

On Friday, the U.S. Senate approved S.744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill developed by the Senate Gang of Eight (that includes Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin), by a vote of 68-32.

The Senate held a roll call vote, a procedure typically reserved only for the most significant votes, to underscore the historic nature of this vote and to emphasize the bi-partisan support. An amendment to S.744 was approved by the Senate on Wednesday that would greatly increase the federal resources for border security, thus addressing concerns that had been expressed by Senate Republicans.

Durbin, a long-time proponent of immigration reform and allowing for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, voted in support of S.744, as did Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk. The bill will now move to the House, where its future is uncertain. The House has assumed an approach to immigration reform that includes tackling the individual issues separately and not as part of a comprehensive legislative package.

This has been a very active week for U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had failed to hold the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions plan to the demanding burden of “strict scrutiny” established in prior court landmark decisions related to affirmative action in education. The majority opinion sidestepped the broader and more controversial issue of whether race-conscious admissions policies are constitutional on the grounds that they are needed to promote educational diversity that serves a compelling government interest.

Photo of VOTE buttonThe Supreme Court also struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This decision has freed approximately 15 states from the requirement that all changes to voting laws, procedures and even polling place locations receive advance approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges. Texas, within hours of the decision being handed down, moved to implement its voter identification laws (voters must show valid identification before they can cast a ballot). Other states, primarily in the south, are likely to follow through on implementing voter identification laws.

Two Supreme Court decisions handed down June 26 are seen as major victories for same-sex marriage.

First, the court struck down, in a 5-4 split decision, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the ban on federal benefits for same-sex married couples. The majority opinion stated that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government” and further stated that DOMA was an intrusion on a state’s traditional role of defining marriage.

In Springfield …

The first public meeting of the joint House-Senate Conference Committee on Pension Reform took place Wednesday, June 27. The committee heard testimony from a number of groups, including the Civic Committee, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the We Are One labor coalition, the Illinois Auditor General, several actuaries, COGFA and Rep. Lou Lang.

The next hearing will be held Wednesday, July 3, in Chicago.