Sunday, February 29, 2004

Some good bills in Illinois this year

I usually neglect to point out some of the smart, progressive legislation that improves our lives, so here goes.

We've got great public transit in the Chicago area. Unfortunately, Metra, Pace and the CTA do not link up very well at all. Ideally, we'd have one seamless web of transit. A great step is a universal fare card that would work on any transit system. Pace and CTA are already hooked up, but Metra with its snappy conductors that take case on baord the train has been resisting. Evanston Democratic State Representative Julie Hamos has been working on this issue for years. I remember sitting in a meeting with her in the late 90s at the Center for Neighborhood Technology trying to figure out how to make this happen. Well, Julie Hamos figured it out and has built the consensus to implement it (almost). She passed HB4098 that will issue a Requst for Proposals for companies to come up with a bid for a universal fare card for the RTA. Smart, because then it's just a question of money, and a universal fare card will almost certainly make money for Metra -- and will make it easier to use transit. I hope the Senate passed the bill (which passed the House unanimously).

What if there was a pill that women could take that would prevent pregnancy -- even the day after sex without a condom? (They do break sometimes). One would think that everyone -- pro-lifers and pro-choices -- would be ecstatic about such a pill. It prevents abortions (and nobody is a real fan of abortions) as well as unwanted pregnancies.

Well, the pill exists. It's actually just two regular birth control pills. And it's widely available in Europe.

Not so in the United States, where prudish federal regulators won't approve its use.

While the FDA gets around to making the right decision, State Representative Sara Feigenholtz is moving forward on making the 'morning-after' pill more available here. HB6577 would allow a woman to get the morning-after pill without a prescription from any pharmacy. That's a good move, and I hope this one gets signed into law. And I really hope the FDA makes the legislation moot by authorizing the morning-after pill to be sold over-the-counter across the nation.

Right now, when almost all the statewide candidates are putting their ads on television, the papers are starting to make endorsements and the casual citizen is starting to engage with the primary election, it is illegal to register to vote. It is illegal to change your address to register where you live. No wonder people feel that politics is for other people.

The current deadline to register to vote is 28 days before an election, creating a month-long lock-out period when it is illegal to register. That's too long.

Minnesota and Wisconsin allow people to register to vote on Election Day. No wonder their voter turnout is so much higher than ours.

Representative Robin Kelly and Senator James Meeks are trying to do something about it. (And full disclosure: I'm one of the main lobbyists working on this bill, and have been organizing on the issue in my spare time for a few years). Senator Meeks' bill SB 2133 would cut the lock-out period in half, and allow people to register to vote up to 14 days before an election. We'd follow the procedural safeguards used in Washington State: 1) people who register during the two-week 'grace period' must register in-person at the office of the election administrator 2) 'grace period' registrants must vote absentee 3) the motor-voter and deputy registrar deadlines remain at 28 days before the election.

The House bill is getting sucked into an omnibus election reform bill that will be rolling out of the Speaker's office someting later this session, so that's a good sign on the House side. SB 2133 was voted out of the Local Government Committee on a party-line vote last week, which is a good sign on the Senate side. I hope it gets signed into law.

There are lots of other good bills out there this year. If you know of any, feel free to plug them in the comments box.

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