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June 2011 Archives

Is it a flip-flop if it's been 34 years?

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Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was credited by those working to abolish the death penalty in Illinois with playing a crucial role.

After weeks of behind-scenes debate, in which the anti-death penalty forces felt they were extremely close in the House but still didn't have that last one or two votes to get a majority, Madigan on Jan. 6 stepped in and got the job done. The bill needed 60 votes to pass, and the final vote was 60-54. And that was on the second try -- the first effort that day lost by a single vote but a parliamentary maneuver to allow another vote was successful.

The state Senate subsequently approved the measure 32-25 on Jan. 11.

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Illinois House Speaker MIke Madigan

The law, which was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on March 9, goes into effect Friday. It will make Illinois the 16th state to abolish capital punishment.

But Madigan wasn't always against the death penalty. A look back at the bill that passed on March 10, 1977, to reinstate capital punishment in Illinois shows Madigan was one of the 119 "yeas" that passed the bill, to 47 "nays" and two "present." The Illinois vote followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 35 years ago this week that permitted states to reinstate the death penalty.

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Illinois death penalty to expire soon

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Long after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois, a handful of death penalty cases are, paradoxically, lingering on life support around the state.

That's because, technically, there still is a death penalty in Illinois. Its abolition doesn't officially take place until Friday.

Other than those personally involved in the trials, this quirk in the law is primarily of concern to governmental bean counters, particularly in small counties without big budgets. That's because the abolition of the death penalty also means the end of state funding that was put in place to make sure death penalty defendants got fair trials. Soon, the counties will have to pay that on their own.

The new indentured servitude?

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Keir Graff's new book is The Price of Liberty.

In one of the rare quiet moments in Keir Graff's most recent book, the fast-paced The Price of Liberty, the protagonist, Jack McEnroe, has an interesting thought.

Jack wonders "if health insurance [is] the invisible chain of indentured servitude. Half the people he knew worked their jobs for that benefit."

As far back as the Clinton effort to reform health care, economists wondered if under-employed people clinging to spots on a payroll to keep access to health insurance was denying the nation a burst of entrepreneurial activity.

Last year, Congress passed health care reform, but if the Republicans regain control of all three branches of government in the next election, that reform could be repealed. Jack and his fellow characters could be back looking for company-paid health insurance -- if they can still find it.

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Not raising gas tax has a price

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Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)

Every six years or so, the federal government puts together a massive bill to fund everything from highways, bridges and tunnels to mass transit.

But there's a problem. The federal gas tax, which is pegged at 18.4 cents per gallon (for regular), doesn't go up as costs do. It hasn't changed since 1993. So all things being equal, Washington will gradually lose ground in its ability to build and maintain infrastructure.

That's a fact that Sen. Mark Kirk wasn't emphasizing when he was in town Monday to push public-private partnerships as a way to come up with $100 billion for new roads, airports and railroads.

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