Tuesday, March 04, 2008

House action

Moment of silence
By Bethany Jaeger
A majority of the Illinois House reversed its position Tuesday about mandating schools to observe a moment of silence to start each school day. Supporters of the reversal included Democrats and Republicans, who argued that while they can support an appropriate moment of silence, prayer or reflection -- whatever you want to call it -- they don't like the mandate. They'd rather preserve local control to let individual schools decide. Furthermore, they said during floor debate, the moment is undefined and the mandate lacks a penalty for failing to observe the law.

“This bill will take us back to where we ought to be, where school districts on their own, families on their own can decide, students on their own can decide what -- if anything -- they wish to do with this moment in time,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat.

Rep. David Reis, a Willow Hill Republican, suggested erasing the reference to “prayer” and limiting the language to a “moment of silence.” But he suggested leaving it as a state mandate. He voted against the measure.

Rep. John Fritchey, the House sponsor of the legislation, said he expects Sen. John Cullerton to carry the measure in the other chamber. But it could be a tough sell.

“It's very difficult to tread the waters where politics and religion meet,” Fritchey said. “This bill last time was mistakenly characterized as a referendum on religion.”

Smoking ban exemptions
By Patrick O'Brien
The statewide smoking ban survived two direct challenges today as Democrats and most Republicans on a House committee rejected an attempted repeal of the law, which went into effect January 1. The committee also rejected a separate measure that would allow businesses to opt out of the law by obtaining smoking licenses, just as they would obtain liquor licenses.

There was one victory for those looking to alter the law, however. A measure that would exempt hookah lounges and other smoking lounges, provided that they make the vast majority of their money from tobacco and tobacco products, passed. The measure will now go to the full House for debate.

The smoking ban has been the subject of more than a few attempts so far this year, mostly by House Republicans, to make exemptions to the act for private clubs, casinos and other businesses, or to reverse the law entirely. Opponents of the law say the ban hurts business, especially in regions near the Indiana and Iowa borders where there are other casino, restaurant and bar options for customers who smoke.

Watch for Senate action when lawmakers return to the Capitol Wednesday.

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