Illinois closer to celebrating Barack Obama Day

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Former President Barack Obama makes his first post-presidential public appearance and chats with younger activists about community organizing and civic engagement at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts on Monday, April 24, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A measure to make former President Barack Obama’s birthday an honorary state holiday now heads to the governor’s desk after clearing the Illinois House unanimously Friday.

The bill would make Aug. 4. Barack Obama Day in Illinois, but state government and businesses would remain open.

“Mr. Obama served this country well, and I really believe personally, that we should give folks their flowers while they’re still alive,” bill sponsor state Rep. Marcus C. Evans Jr., D-Chicago, said on the House floor. “So honoring our president while he can experience it and feel it and and show the love, I think is needed.”

The legislation says the day would be observed throughout the state “as a day set apart to honor the 44th President of the United States of America who began his career serving the People of Illinois in both the Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate, and dedicated his life to protecting the rights of Americans and building bridges across communities.”

There were several attempts to make Obama’s birthday a state holiday – meaning government offices and banks would be closed — that were met with resistance over the costs, including from the governor’s office.

Gov. Bruce Rauner in February said publicly he thought the state should honor Obama with a “day of acknowledgement and celebration” but not with a “formal holiday with paid, forced time off.” Rauner’s office did not offer a comment when contacted Friday.

State lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would rename two different Illinois highways after Obama.

State Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, came up with the compromise bill that would commemorate Obama with a holiday but not close state government. Jones’ father, longtime Senate leader Emil Jones Jr., has long been dubbed Obama’s political godfather.

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