Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Illinois commission approves Thomson sale

By Rachel Wells

Nearly two weeks after a failed al-Qaeda attempt to bomb a plane bound for Detroit, an Illinois legislative commission voted Wednesday to support the sale of Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government to house suspected terrorists.

Thomson was opened in 2001 and has been virtually empty since.

While four Republicans opposed the non-binding decision, Sen. Dave Syverson, a Rockford Republican, and commission co-chair Rep. Richard Myers, a Colchester Republican, joined Democratic members in support.

Syverson said it was not the commission's job to debate President Barack Obama's plan to move Guantanamo Bay prisoners -- a plan he does not support -- but to weigh the financial benefit of the sale for both the state of Illinois and residents of the Thomson area.

The commission chairman, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat, addressed concerns that Congress has not yet approved the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners.

"The Bureau of Prisons is now prepared to move ahead and purchase this facility and begin necessary preparations to alleviate its overcrowding in other federal prisons throughout the country," Schoenberg said. "When the issue of terrorists and detainees is addressed by Congress, they will then initiate a lease agreement with the Department of Defense."

Opponents argued that the move would result in Illinois becoming an al-Queda recruitment tool, just as Guantanamo did.

Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican gubernatorial candidate from Bloomington, led a failed attempt to stall the commission's vote until the legislature returned to Springfield next week.

Brady said Gov. Pat Quinn had not answered all his questions regarding the sale. “We have a problem with public safety,” he said, referring to recent controversy over two prisoner early release programs. “We are going to need to build a new prison if the governor sells this prison.”

According to Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the sale could create up to 3,800 jobs and generate more than $1 billion in economic activity.

“This is about doing what’s right for our troops, for our national security and for the people of Illinois," Quinn and Durbin said in a joint statement after the commission's decision. "We will continue doing everything we can to make this sale a reality and bring the jobs and other economic benefits to our state."

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