Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gas, Gambling, Games, Governor and Safeguard

By Jamey Dunn
A gas tax increase, a proposition to sell lottery tickets online and early plans for possible 2016 Chicago Olympic Games all progressed in the legislature today. So did a measure to protect youth from sex offenders who prowl on social networking Web sites.

A controversial measure to increase in the sales tax on gasoline, proposed by Democratic Rep. John Bradley of Marion, advanced this morning. Bradley warned that HB 1 still needed work, and he urged committee members to support the concept rather than the details as introduced.

A bill backed by Senate President John Cullerton would allow the state to sell lottery tickets on the Internet. Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park, said SB 1654 would do three things:

  1. Prohibit the state from selling the Illinois Lottery to private investors.
  2. Allow the state to hire a private firm to manage the lottery, while the state would still own it. Harmon said the idea would be to “contract with someone smarter than us to operate it.”
  3. Create a pilot program to sell tickets for the Lotto and Mega Million games online.

The measure advanced out of committee today, but Harmon said it needed work before it would be ready for a final vote on the Senate floor.

The Senate sent a bill to the House that is an early step towards preparing for the possibility of the 2016 Olympic Games being held in Chicago. The specifics of the bill will be worked out in the House, but sponsor Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said it was important to get the ball rolling to meet an April deadline set by the International Olympic Committee.

Also in the Senate today, Cullerton announced that Senate Secretary Deborah Shipley (scroll down for bio) will join Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff as director of legislative operations. It’s another move that could build bridges between the executive and legislative branches, which have had frosty relationships during the past six years.

Shipley was elected secretary by Senate members in January 2007, replacing retired secretary Linda Hawker. Shipley will bring some institutional knowledge and offer guidance to Quinn’s relatively new and young legislative staff.

Safeguard against sex offenders
By Hilary Russell
The state could make it harder for individuals convicted of sex crimes to use the Internet.

Rep. Sandra Pihos, a Glen Ellyn Republican, is sponsoring HB 1314, a bill that would make using a social networking Web site a Class 4 felony for registered sex offenders. Convicted offenders must register with the state.

Earlier this year, Pihos said she read a report that nearly 100,000 sex offenders were removed from social networking Web sites in Connecticut and North Carolina, where two state attorneys general targeted sex offenders who used the Web.

“If they can remove that many sexual predators, we can do that here,” Pihos said. “Until we’re sure we have a mechanism in place that actually safeguards our children from sexual predators being on that site, I just feel that here in Illinois, we need to put some legislation in place.”

Her bill would apply a Class 4 felony or up to a three-year prison sentence if someone used social networking Web sites while registered as a sex offender. As a condition of parole, probation or release, the offender would have to agree not to use such sites as MySpace or FaceBook.

MySpace and FaceBook have more than 180 million users, and Pihos said that it’s an ideal anonymous place for sexual predators to troll for young people.

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