House passes crackdown on disabled-parking abuses

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Handicapped parking placard. Saturday,November 5, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD – Legislation driven by a Chicago Sun-Times investigation into the abuse of disabled-parking placards by able-bodied drivers unanimously passed the Illinois House Thursday.

That crackdown resulting from a “Watchdogs” report came as the Illinois Senate moved to shed light on a series of secret state deals such as those benefiting the family of felon William Cellini, another issue first exposed by the Sun-Times.

Those two measures capped a busy legislative day when the Illinois House approved a “painful,” preliminary budget outline with steep spending cuts, rejected a bid to have pregnant women view ultrasounds before abortions and killed an effort to revoke half-off tuition waivers from the children of public university employees.

The parking crackdown, sponsored by Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park), passed the House 108-0 and now moves to the Senate. It would end free parking in metered zones for most citizens in the state that have handicapped placards or plates.

By 2014, only those who are unable to physically feed meters or are confined to a wheelchair would still get to park for free in a metered area. Her bill also specifies that people who could not walk 20 feet due to an orthopedic, neurological or cardiovascular condition would qualify for free parking.

“Everyone is tired of people abusing the system,” May told colleagues.

A pair of bills inspired by the Cellini family’s continued dealings with state landlords after William Cellini’s corruption convictions last fall passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House.

The proposals by Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) would require greater public disclosure from firms that manage state office buildings – such as the one Cellini’s family runs, Pacific Management. Under her bills, the identity of management firm owners and how much they charge state landlords would be made public, which now is not the case.

In January, the Sun-Times reported in another “Watchdogs” story that Pacific – a firm Cellini founded and is now operated by his family – has agreements with private landlords to manage 18 state office buildings despite his felony convictions. Taxpayers paid more than $14.4 million in rent for those buildings, but the state could not say what percentage of that amount went to the firm.

“The Sun-Times was the first paper that initiated this inquiry and made a point of getting to the bottom of it,” Garrett said. “Obviously, there was resistance. And because of that resistance and confusion, we wanted to make it abundantly clear there would be absolute full disclosure of all investors and partners in these types of arrangements.”

Also Thursday, the Illinois Senate approved and sent to the House a plan to add Powerball to the lineup of games the state lottery can offer in its pilot program selling lottery tickets online.

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