Wednesday, February 17, 2010

House wants a say in Thomson sale

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn may have to ask for permission from the General Assembly if he wants to sell Thomson prison to the federal government.

President Barack Obama’s administration proposed a plan in December to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Thomson as part of the president’s plan to close the controversial prison that houses terror suspects in Cuba.

HB 4744 passed in the House today with bi-partisan support. It would require legislative approval for the sale of any state property worth more than $1 million.

“Properties worth more than $1 million, like the Thomson Correctional Center, should not be sold in the dead of night by administrative procedure, but in the light of day with legislative approval,” said Crystal Lake Republican Rep. Mike Tryon, the bill’s sponsor.

But Rep. Jim Sacia from Pecatonica, a vocal opponent of the bill and one of few Republican supporters of the plan to sell the prison, said that the measure amounts to nothing but political posturing. “I just can’t get over how people make this a partisan issue,” he said.

Sacia, whose district is near Thomson, said legislators are sacrificing job creation and economic growth for an area with double-digit unemployment rates to “take a shot at President Obama.”

Opponents of the sale have said that Illinois should reopen Thomson to help take pressure off the state's overcrowded corrections system. Sacia said that he has been trying every avenue to do just that since he got into office eight years ago, but the money just wasn’t and still isn't there. “If we couldn’t afford to open it then, don’t you dare get on your high horse and tell me we can afford to open it today,” he said.

Tryon said legislative approval for such a sale is a reasonable request when comparing Illinois with the rest of the nation. “Other state legislatures are required to approve similar transactions in their respective states, and there’s no reason it should be any different in Illinois.”

To become law, the bill still has to pass in the Senate and then get approval from Quinn. The governor's staff declined to comment. However, if Quinn wants the sale to go through, odds are he would veto the bill, so, the measure may not have a shot at passing until the legislature's veto session next fall.

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