Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Human rights, ethics and impeacment

Illinois’ first openly gay legislator and the man who championed the state's law to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation died yesterday. Larry McKeon was 63.

The Democrat announced his retirement in 2006 after 10 years in the House, where he represented northern Chicago neighborhoods. But Rep. Gregory Harris, who replaced McKeon, says his work resonated statewide. “I think a lot of people expected him to come down here and sort of be a single-note guy. He proved that he had the ability to represent the City of Chicago, he had the ability to represent the people of his district, he had a strong voice for people who were dispossessed and underserved all across this state — and really distinguish himself as a leader on a lot of key issues.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan described McKeon as a “tireless advocate on a wide range of social, health care and human rights issues,” including services for people with HIV and AIDS, as well as housing, mental health and developmental disabilities.

“He never shied away from confronting tough issues or seeking to bring disparate forces together,” Madigan said in a statement. “I admired his tenacity and his intellect.”

Born in Idaho, McKeon earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from California State University at Los Angeles and worked toward his doctorate at the University of Chicago. His 42 years of public service included working as a special adviser to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and an infantry officer in the U.S. Army.

He was diagnosed with AIDS and colorectal cancer in 2005. (See Illinois Issues magazine, September 2006, page 35.)

Civil unions
Harris also said he expects to call a measure that would allow civil unions in Illinois, which would grant legal rights related to emergency medical decisions, nursing home and hospital visits and funeral arrangements. In a Statehouse news conference, Harris joined senior citizens in advocating for the measure. He also said it would apply to same sex couples, although it's not the same thing as same sex marriage. He tried to advance HB 1615 last year but didn't get very far.

This is different. He said same-sex marriage is "off the table" this time around.

"There’s clearly not support for that. What I did hear from people is that they understood that committed couples need certain basic legal rights and responsibilities related to hospital visitation and health care decision making and funeral arrangements and those kinds of basic life issues. And that’s what civil unions is addressing.”

Ethics on the move

Sen. Don Harmon, sponsor of long-awaited ethics reform, said he hopes to call the “pay-to-play” legislation Thursday on the Senate floor. After a Senate committee advanced the measure this afternoon, Harmon said he couldn’t imagine too many people voting against it. We’ll have to see that to believe it.

“Impeachment” is a buzzword around the Capitol
by Patrick O'Brien
Four state lawmakers and about 150 state workers rallied on the steps of the Capitol today and called for the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In a rally organized by Springfield radio station WMAY, central Illinois Republicans criticized the governor over the slow pace of budget talks and the proposal to move 150 state jobs in the Illinois Department of Transportation from Springfield to southern Illinois.

Sen. Larry Bomke, a Springfield Republican, already sent a request for an impeachment trial to House Speaker Michael Madigan. Bomke accused the governor of playing political games with workers’ lives.

Note: Yesterday, the House approved a measure that would supplement the Illinois Department of Transportation budget. The agency is struggling to meet demands after the particularly harsh winter and increasing gas prices. The measure, sponsored by the governor’s floor leader, Democratic Rep. Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, includes extra money for the IDOT branch in Springfield.

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