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Chicago moves closer to getting speed-enforcement cameras

In this March 8, 2011 photo, a sign warns motorists on Interstate 95 in Ridgeland, S.C., about a speed camera system in use on the expressway in the town limits. The cameras in Ridgeland have spotted thousands of speeding motorists and won accolades from highway safety advocates. But they've also attracted opposition from state lawmakers and sparked a federal court challenge. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House handed Mayor Rahm Emanuel a lucrative victory at the Statehouse Wednesday, passing to Gov. Pat Quinn a measure authorizing speed-enforcement cameras around city parks and schools.

That development capped a busy legislative day in which the House defeated a major gambling expansion plan, and a tax-break package sought by Chicago’s financial exchanges and Sears Holding Corp. stalled.

The speed-camera proposal that only applies to Chicago passed the House 64-50 and was billed by its backers as a tool to improve pedestrian safety, particularly among children.

“We can protect our children. We can show a significant reduction in speeding. That’ll lead not to just fewer fatalities, but it’ll lead to a lot less serious injuries along the way,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief House sponsor.

“All the studies show us when you have strong enforcement … of the speeding laws, guess what: People slow down,” she said.

The plan would allow the cameras to be mounted in areas within one-eighth of a mile of city parks and schools and subject those speeding more than 5 mph over the posted limit to fines of between $50 and $100, depending on their speed.

Companion legislation, which passed the House earlier Wednesday 63-50 and moves to the Senate, would permit the cameras around schools to function between 6 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. from Monday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. on Friday, while cameras on streets near parks would operate an hour before parks open and an hour after they close.

Critics complained that the proposal amounted to Big Brother intrusion, would eventually lead to speeding cameras in the suburbs and Downstate and amounted to a “blatant money grab” by the city.

“This is going to hit local taxpayers in their own neighborhoods. It’s going to hit them repeatedly,” said Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), who voted against the plan. “This is just a rotten idea.”

Under the legislation, the City Council could approve the cameras after July 1, 2012.

Quinn, who has not voiced opposition to the idea, would not divulge his position on the measure. A spokeswoman would say only that the governor intended to review it.

On another legislative front, efforts by Quinn to cobble together a tax-break package to keep CME Group and Sears from leaving the state hit a snag, prompting House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) to extend the six-day fall veto session by at least one day by ordering his chamber back to the Capitol Nov. 21.

“I think there was a general view the Legislature needs to continue to work on the governor’s tax plan and try to fashion a bill that can pass,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Legislative critics questioned how the cash-strapped state could afford a tax-break package that benefited the two companies, offered a mix of other tax breaks for businesses and the working poor and that could reach $700 million. Quinn’s funding plan for the package would expire after two years, even though the tax breaks would continue on beyond that point.

The day’s other big legislative news involved the defeat in the House of a re-jiggered gambling-expansion plan that would bring a casino to Chicago.

The package that would authorize four other casinos, add slot machines at racetracks and incorporate reforms that Quinn had sought publicly lost 58-53. Quinn’s administration did not back the plan pushed by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie).

“It’s clear that this proposal needs more work, dialogue and analysis. We look forward to working with the General Assembly on this issue in the future,” Quinn’s office said in a prepared statement after the vote.

Lang’s proposal needed a bare minimum of 60 votes to pass the House and 71 votes to repel a possible Quinn veto. Similar legislation that passed in May but that never was sent to Quinn drew 65 votes in the House.

Lang kept his bill alive through a parliamentary maneuver and said he intended to make another run at a vote on Thursday.