Blanket free transit rides for Illinois seniors could soon be a thing of the past. The Illinois House is poised to vote on a bill that would limit free bus rides only to low-income seniors beginning March 1. All other seniors would be able to ride at half price, just as they did before March, 2008.
Blanket free transit rides for Illinois seniors could soon be a thing of the past.
The Illinois House is poised to vote on a bill that would limit free bus rides only to low-income seniors beginning March 1. All other seniors would be able to ride at half price, just as they did before March, 2008.
"We are in such difficult budget times that the affordability of the free rides for seniors impacts every transit rider at this point, if we are going to be making service cuts and fare increases," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook.
Free rides for seniors are being targeted as mass transit systems in the Chicago metropolitan area face fare increases and service cuts due to budget shortfalls. The free-rides-for-all-seniors is partly blamed for those problems, costing those systems $37 million.
Under Senate Bill 941, free rides for all seniors would end March 1. After that, only seniors who qualify for the state's Circuit Breaker program could still apply to get a card allowing them to ride mass transit for free. Circuit Breaker eligibility starts with a maximum income of $22,218 annually for a single person.
Seniors who don't qualify for Circuit Breaker could still ride buses for half price.
The bill – which includes other provisions aimed at helping Chicago-area mass transit systems – sailed out of the House Executive Committee Wednesday with no dissenting votes. It is pending before the full House. The Illinois Senate would also have to approve the bill before sending it to Gov. Pat Quinn for his approval.
Free bus rides for all seniors has been available in Illinois for less than two years. Former Gov Rod Blagojevich insisted on it as a condition of his support for a Chicago mass transit bail-out bill in early 2008. The free-rides-for-all-seniors program started in March 2008.
A cemetery scandal in Chicago could end up costing the city of Springfield money.
Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin objected to a sweeping rewrite of state cemetery regulations that surfaced Wednesday because they will apply to publicly-owned cemeteries like Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery in addition to the for-profit cemetery in Chicago that prompted the new regulations.
"I think we are killing an ant with a nuclear bomb when it comes to the type of regulations they are trying to put on us," Davlin said outside of a House hearing room Wednesday. "I don't see any part of this, so far, that could help anybody in the city of Springfield. It looks like a huge financial burden and the loss of those volunteers who keep the cemetery looking as it does today."
The 240-page bill was prompted by the scandal at Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago where owners dug up graves, dumped the bodies and resold the burial plots.
Senate Bill 1471 gives the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation oversight of cemeteries. It requires licensing of cemetery employees who deal with the public and requires that other workers be registered. Davlin said the license fees will cost money. He also said the registration requirement will create problems for Springfield, which uses city workers, Department of Corrections inmates and volunteers all to help maintain the property.
"I see a huge source of help to municipalities and cities like ours that just aren't going to be able to be used any more," Davlin said.
Davlin said a public cemetery like Oak Ridge already has sufficient oversight from the city council, the cemetery board and the public.
Religious groups have also raised objections to having their cemeteries included in the regulations.
The House Executive Committee approved the bill Wednesday, although several representatives said the legislation needs further revision.
State senators are moving forward with approving several appointees to Gov. Pat Quinn's Cabinet, including his prison director.
The Senate Executive Appointments Committee easily approved several directors of top agencies under Quinn, including Michael Randle at the Department of Corrections, Michelle Saddler at the Department of Human Services and James Sledge at the Department of Central Management Services.
Republican senators praised Randle, who took over the top prison job in June, for his commitment to keep open the supermax prison at Tamms in deep southern Illinois despite complaints of inhumane treatment of inmates.
Randle said the department has started a 10-point reform plan to improve conditions and ease restrictions at Tamms, home to the worst of the worst offenders. But he sees it as an essential part of maintaining control of the state's prison system.
"Because Tamms exists, the other 27 prisons in this state are safer," Randle told senators.
Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac, encouraged Randle to develop a long-range plan for prison resources that avoids the disputes that erupted under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who tried unsuccessfully to close several prisons.
"The old days of politics for prisons has got to end," Rutherford said.
The appointments of Randle and the other directors now head to the full Senate for consideration.
Randle said after the meeting the department expects to start the early release of about 1,000 non-violent offenders after the first of November but is in no rush to get those inmates out the door.
"We have been diligent in our dealings with these cases to make sure they meet the criteria that were laid out," Randle said. "It's more important to do it the right way."
Ryan Keith contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.