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Illinois Could Have Country’s First Plastic Bag, Wrapper Law

Here is a wrap-up of some of the latest political news.

Illinois lawmakers are pushing for a statewide plastic bag and wrapper recycling program, the first of its kind in the country, according to Illinois Statehouse News. The bill requires plastic bag and wrapper manufacturers to establish collection sites within 10 miles of Illinois residents in 90 percent of counties by 2014.

“We could do nothing and recycle 2 percent of our bags next year, or we could put in a statewide program and make it to 13 percent,” bill sponsor State Rep. Michael Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) told the Statehouse News.

This collection program would evaluate plastic bag and wrapper recycling rates. It would expire in four years, unless the General Assembly renews it.

The bill also would bar local governments, except Chicago and Cook County, from banning or taxing plastic bags and wrappers.

The bill passed the House Environmental Health Committee April 25 with support from manufacturers and retailers and is expected to go before the full House.

An identical version of the bill passed the Senate in late March by a 36-15 vote. The bill has support from the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Chemical Industry Council of Illinois and Hilex Poly, the largest plastic bag manufacturer and recycler in the United States, according to Statehouse News.

Violence Against Women Act Survives Partisan Fight in U.S. Senate

A new version of the national Violence Against Women Act, the legislation that Democrats used as a backdrop to accuse Republicans of waging a "war on women," passed the U.S. Senate April 26, 68 to 31.

Fifteen Republicans joined every Democrat in voting for the measure. The passage reauthorizes a wide variety of services for abused women and men for five years, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

"This violence must end," the Christian Science Monitor quoted U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) of Minnesota, one of the bill's main champions, as saying on the Senate floor April 26. "And so we all know that we can no longer stand and say it is someone else's problem. We can't let our own differences, minor that they may be on various provisions, get in the way."

The House is expected to vote on VAWA, as the law is known, some time this month. House Republicans are drafting their own version.

Traditionally, VAWA is not a target of partisan dissent. This year, however, Republican concerns over a handful of new provisions in the Senate legislation gave Democrats an opening to slam their GOP colleagues for standing in the bill's way, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Senate Democrats added provisions to VAWA that would help gays and lesbians receive domestic-abuse protections, make more temporary visas available for battered women in the United States illegally, and offer native American women more protection.

Lawmakers’ Scholarship Program Seems Doomed

Updated May 4, 2012

The Illinois Senate Friday, May 4 overwhelmingly approved the elimination of a century-old legislative scholarship program that has come under federal investigation and long been abused by politicians who passed out the tuition waivers to relatives and the offspring of cronies and campaign contributors, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.

The vote is a milestone at the Capitol because for years the Senate had refused to endorse the ban under both Democratic and Republican control. The bill heads to the House, where Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, supports it.

The turning point for the program in the Senate was the change of heart in the Democratic leadership.

(original story) The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that Illinois’ top Senate Democrat has dropped his resistance to abolishing the state’s scandal-tainted legislative scholarship program and advanced a measure that would kill the waivers next year.

Until recently, bowing to pressure particularly from within his own caucus, Cullerton had held out hope of reforming and preserving the legislative scholarship program that allows lawmakers to dole out free tuition to whomever they want.

The Chicago Sun-Times, with help from the Better Government Association, uncovered a series of cases in which lawmakers repeatedly have violated state law with no consequences by awarding waivers to students living outside their legislative districts. The awards also have gone to the children of campaign donors, political allies and even a reputed mobster.

Cullerton’s bill, which would eliminate the scholarships in September 2013, was embraced by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), who has been a leading advocate for abolishing legislative scholarships.

“It was clear to everyone this needed to happen. I don’t care who gets credit for it. It’s the right thing to do,” she told the Sun-Times. “It’s very difficult to argue that these things were being handed out in a fair way and that legislators were equipped to do that well.”

Gov. Pat Quinn has also spoken out against the scholarships.

Cullerton’s legislation moved out of a subcommittee on a 2-0 vote, with state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) voting present. Lightford voiced regret about the “dismantling” of the legislative scholarship program, which she said most legislators use responsibly to help needy students get a college education.

The Sun-Times reported that Cullerton said he has spoken to House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) about his changes to the scholarship bill that passed the House and that Madigan supports those changes.

Quinn is Urged Not to Close Prisons, Mental Facilities

Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close two prisons and a center for people with developmental disabilities is getting opposition from an Illinois legislative commission, according to The Associated Press.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 7-3 on May 1 against closing prisons in Tamms and Dwight. It also advised against closing the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.

A panel of Illinois lawmakers recommended against closing two prisons and a developmental center on May 1.

Closing the facilities would save the state about $90 million at a time when the governor and legislative leaders want to cut billions. But the closures also would eliminate hundreds of jobs, deliver painful blows to downstate communities and, in the case of the developmental center, disrupt life for disabled people and their families, the AP reported.

The panel’s action is only advisory. Quinn can still close the facilities, which he says must be done to cut spending and improve care for people with mental disabilities.

The Tamms prison is a super maximum security facility for the most dangerous inmates, while Dwight houses female prisoners. The developmental center in Centralia is being targeted as part of Quinn’s effort to move people out of institutions and into community care, according to the AP.

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