Thursday, February 10, 2005

Committees! Good times, good times

The General Assembly is in the swing of things. I still haven't figured out a good blogging set up in Springfield, so I'm a few days late on this stuff, but the House committees are full of interesting, progressive ideas (some of which die, some of which survive).

Did you know that only 21 municipalities in Illinios have the authority to ban smoking? Most places can not do so under state law. House Bill 672, introduced by Representative Karen Yarbrough (read it here) would modernize state law to let any home rule municipality ban smoking. It lost in the Environmental Health Committee (a new one chaired by Karen May) by a 4-3-1 vote. Unfortunately, the General Assembly's website doesn't record committee votes, so it doesn't say who the 4 yes votes, the 3 no votes and the 1 present vote are. It's a 5-3 D-R committee, and I happened to ask Kevin McCarthy about the bill before. He doesn't smoke, and in fact went on a smoke-free cruise with his wife, but he voted no, because he heard from his local restaraunts and bars that they would definitely be hurt if they were forced to go smoke free. Advocates of smoke-free workplaces argue that in Boston and New York State and California where they have gone smoke-free there has been no negative economic impact, and some data that bars and restaraunts do better because people who don't like to smell like a carcinogenic fog after going out can go to the bars. So we need more data and anecdotal evidence from bar/restaurant owners/workers in smoke-free places to see if they did better or worse from going smoke-free. If we can convince legislators like Representative McCarthy that the bars actually do better, then we have a better chance to pass the bill. A companion bill is in the Senate, introduced by Senator John Cullerton, SB 254, would do about the same thing.

This bill will be a big battle between public health / lung association / anti-cancer people and the Restaurant Association (led by the affable Donovan Pepper). No offense, Donovan, but I hope you lose. First round goes to Pepper.

Another bill came up that Lou Lang is pushing is HB 187 that would require school buses to have seat belts. It passed out of committee after a high-minded debate over whether the state should mandate school districts (most of which are broke because we won't tax our higher-income people at 5 or 6 percent of their income) to put seat belts in their new buses, or tell the bus companies that they lease from to include seat belts. I wish they would take video of some of the committees and put it on the Illinois Channel or at least on the website, because some of them really are interesting.

A few bills that I have worked on moved out of committee. Anazette Collins has a bill, HB 166 (here) that doesn't permit juveniles to waive the right to counsel in any court-related proceeding. That's what the bill will say. We had to create what are magic words in the Capitol: an Agreed Bill. When everyone who is at all interested in a bill, agrees, then things go well. Bills fly out. Legislators don't need to worry about the language, because the experts who are most informed agree that the bill is not harmful to anyone. So we reached an agreement with the state's attorneys, and now the bill should be one of those unanimous bills.

Another agreed bill that I worked on yesterday is Sara Feigenholtz's HB 112 (here) which requires about every part of state and local government to use 2 percent biodiesel for all their diesel engines. Every time we fill up a tank of gas, we're exporting wealth from Illinois to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Venezuela. When we fill up with biodisel, we're keeping our wealth in Illinois. We should lead on this policy.

Lots and lots of good bills out there. Not enough citizen lobbyists showing up at the Capitol, meeting their legislators face-to-face and asking them to support the good bills. If you have never made the trip, what are you waiting for? An invitation?


Anonymous said...

Lou has been trying to pass that school bus bill for a long, long time.

Trouble is, it doesn't make sense. There's no data that school buses with belts are safer than those without.


Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Ralph -- is there any data that the kids are safer without seat belts? Common sense suggests that kids are safer with the belts.

Vasyl said...

Dan --

Cool update on the comment feature. I can comment without registering!

But I was really posting to take you to task (somewhat) on your enthusiasm for the agreed bill process. It's great if you're proposing the bill; but it's not so great for all the people who might be affected but don't have a lobbyist in Springfield. It's too easy for obscure interests to get together and agree on something that isn't good for the general public.

I'm not suggesting that all agreed bills are bad, and I know the General Assembly couldn't function without this level of collegiality. But the hope is that at least someone is out there watching out for the people who don't have lobbyists.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Hi Vasyl,

I'm making a positive, not a normative statement about agreed bills. Legislators like them. I don't think the agreed bill culture is the best for a legislature, but I can understand (given limited hours in a day) why legislators like the interested parties to come to an agreement.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan-

Good seeing you last week at Chapin's FR. Sorry about the delay in responding. Affable? Thank you! BTW, no offense taken. Round 2 to the body parts people! :)