In this Sept. 20, 2011 file photo, a phone is held in a car in Brunswick, Maine. Texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed, federal safety investigators declared Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)
It “might be inevitable” that Illinois eventually bans the use of cellular phones while people are in cars, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Tuesday.
However, Cullerton said it won’t happen immediately.
“There’s no question it’s a distraction from driving,” Cullerton said of talking on a cell phone. “There’s not a big difference between whether you’re holding a phone or whether you’re not holding a phone. It’s the distraction in talking to someone that’s not in the car with you. It’s not what’s in your hand, it’s what’s in your head.”
Cullerton, who has sponsored or supported bills dealing with child passenger safety, seat-belt usage and requiring the use of motorcycle helmets, said he probably won’t sponsor a phone ban for drivers in the coming legislative session, which begins Jan. 31.
“These are the kinds of things you take incrementally,” he said. “I’ve kind of gotten away from being the main sponsor. … I think that’s something which I’ll leave to the other senators.”
The National Transportation Safety Board called for a ban Dec. 12 on all cell phone use in vehicles, including with hands-free devices and wireless headsets. No state has such a ban today.
Also Tuesday, Cullerton said he believes the state could pay off its backlog of unpaid bills by selling roughly $6 billion in bonds. The borrowing would be paid off with general revenue funds over the next seven years, he said.
Republicans have balked at such proposals, saying that it amounts to more borrowing in an already debt-ridden state.
“We have not been for that and will continue not to be,” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said in December.
Democrats respond that Illinois already owes the money. It isn’t fair to, in effect, borrow the money from non-profits, local governments, schools and others who are owed money, they say.
“It’s not new borrowing. It’s being responsible,” Cullerton said. “It would force us to find $1 billion in cuts a year over the next seven years.”
Illinois has 129,000 unpaid bills totaling $3.36 billion in the general revenue fund, plus $970 million owed to schools for a total of $4.33 billion owed out of GRF, according to Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office. The oldest bill is dated Sept. 1, 2011.
When Medicaid bills being held by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, corporate tax refunds and employee health insurance debts are added in, the comptroller believes the total owed is roughly $8.3 billion.
Cullerton on other issues
* Pension reform will be on the Senate’s agenda. Senate President John Cullerton said Tuesday he believes that unilaterally changing benefits for current employees is unconstitutional, so a House bill that would increase contribution rates for employees and set up a three-tiered pension system won’t pass muster before the courts.
He hopes to negotiate a solution with public employee unions this year.
* Cullerton believes a gambling expansion bill could still become law, even though Gov. Pat Quinn opposes the one that sits in the Senate, which has passed both chambers. Quinn has outlined a proposal he can support, Cullerton said, so it will be up to the House and the governor to work out a deal.
* Cullerton would like to see a fairer corporate income tax. Two-thirds of Illinois corporations pay no tax while those that do have complained about the increase in the rate that passed a year ago.
* Cullerton also announced changes in the staff of the Senate and Senate Democrats.
– Dave Gross will replace Andy Manar, who is running for the Senate, as chief of staff for Senate Democrats. Gross will earn $179,500, which is what he previously made at Southern Illinois University, according to a Cullerton spokeswoman.
– If approved by the full Senate, Illinois Commerce Commission executive director Tim Anderson will replace Jill Rock as secretary of the Senate at a salary of $130,795. Twenty-one candidates were considered for the position. The field was narrowed by a committee of former secretaries of the Senate and former state Sen. Patrick Welch, Cullerton said.
Anderson has been at the ICC post since 2006.
– Cullerton’s deputy press secretary, John Patterson, will replace Toby Trimmer as the Senate Democrats’ director of communications at a salary of $95,000.
Source: The State Journal Register – The Oldest Newspaper in Illinois