Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Senate sends gun-show bill giving gun lobby another win

Senate sends gun-show bill giving gun lobby another win

Thursday, May 26, 2005

SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers gave the gun lobby another victory Wednesday, approving legislation that would close a loophole in background checks of gun buyers but also bar police from keeping records of gun purchases.

The bill passed the Senate 34-25 and now goes to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who said he will use his amendatory veto to rewrite it.

The legislation puts gun-control advocates in an awkward position.

It would require people buying weapons at gun shows to go through the same background checks as in stores, a change long sought by gun control supporters. But it also would require law enforcement to destroy records of firearm purchases 90 days after the sale, which critics fear will hamper police efforts to track down criminals.

The National Rifle Association and its allies consider the police databases an invasion of law-abiding citizens' privacy rights.

Supporters of the legislation said linking the two was the only way to break through the gridlock on gun issues. Lawmakers have repeatedly blocked gun-control proposals by Blagojevich and Mayor Richard Daley this session, while supporting part of the NRA's agenda.

Sen. Peter Roskam (R-Glen Ellyn), said lawmakers should do more than complain and send out press releases condemning the other side.

"I'm choosing to do something," he said. "This is an attempt to bring a wide range of parties together for some sort of compromise."

Critics said the proposal was too heavily weighted toward gun-rights advocates.

"This bill is not a compromise, this is an outright surrender," said Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston).

Blagojevich said records of gun purchases help police track down who bought a weapon used in a crime and can be used to tell whether a home being raided is likely to contain guns.

"Why would we take a valuable public safety tool like that away?" he said in a statement. "We can — and should — keep gun transaction records and close the gun show loophole."

Blagojevich said he would use his veto powers to change the section on keeping records and send the bill back to lawmakers. Accepting his changes would require a simple majority vote by lawmakers; overriding them would take a three-fifths majority.

On Tuesday, the House narrowly rejected legislation to ban assault weapons and .50-caliber rifles. The sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, says he is working on a new version to address some opponents' concerns and hoped to present the amendment today.


The bill is SB57.

On the Net: www.legis.state.il.us

Hearing aimed at stripping casino of license resumes

Three years after it began, a hearing aimed at stripping the bankrupt Emerald Casino Inc. of its gambling license resumed Wednesday with a former gaming board administrator testifying that the casino had no riverboat or gambling devices of its own when it sought license renewal eight years ago.

The three-year time lag since witness Michael Belletire, a former Illinois Gaming Board administrator, was last on the stand prompted several jokes. Belletire, who is balding, even quipped that he had hair when he originally took an oath to testify.

The license revocation hearing began May 29, 2002, but was put on hold June 13, 2002, after Emerald was forced into bankruptcy and while the state worked out a settlement with Emerald. The gaming board has been trying to revoke Emerald's license since 2001, over concerns about the company and possible mob ties in Rosemont, where Emerald had planned to relocate and build a casino.

If the license is revoked, the state could hold an auction to reissue the license to another casino company, regulators said.

Last year, Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced plans to resume the revocation hearing after the gaming board selected Isle of Capri's $518 million bid for the license held by Emerald even though it also planned to build in Rosemont. However, the gaming board did not have enough members to appoint a judge for the hearing. Gov. Rod Blagojevich let the Gaming Board languish for seven months without a quorum before naming new members in March.

Last month, new board chairman Aaron Jaffe appointed Abner Mikva, a former U.S. Court of Appeals chief judge and congressman, as judge for the revocation hearing. Jaffe said he wanted the hearing to resume because he claimed the state has lost about $500 million in revenue since 1997 when Emerald's owners closed its casino in East Dubuque and later decided to reopen in Rosemont.

On Wednesday, Belletire testified he and the gaming board staff had recommended to the gaming board that Emerald's license not be renewed when it applied for renewal in March 1997.

"Our basis for that was that they didn't have a riverboat and didn't have gambling devices," he said.

He later acknowledged Emerald was leasing a riverboat and gambling machines until June 1997, but said Emerald gave no indication the lease would extend beyond that date.

When Emerald attorney Robert Clifford asked Belletire if he had once said he could have Emerald's license revoked in 60 days, Belletire said he could not force that to happen.

"If I did, it was certainly a level of hyperbole that this proceeding today underscores," Belletire said.

According to a preliminary list the Gaming Board provided, other expected witnesses it intends to call include Emerald owners Donald and Kevin Flynn; Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens; Nicholas Boscarino, a former business partner of Stephens who was sentenced last week to three years in prison for swindling an insurance agency out of more than $144,000; and Sherri Boscarino, who is Nicholas Boscarino's wife. A trust named for Sherri Boscarino was an investor in Emerald and has been accused by the Gaming Board of associating with organized crime.

The list of potential witnesses also included Emerald investor Joseph Salamone, who has been accused by the Gaming Board of associating with organized crime; and Peter DiFronzo, brother of reputed organized crime member John DiFronzo.

However, Mikva warned attorneys for Emerald and the Gaming Board to call only essential witnesses. The Gaming Board listed 34 witnesses it could call, but Emerald's list has not been submitted.

"We have been too long in this task and we must get it completed for everybody's sake," Mikva said.

Attorneys for Rosemont have argued that a new casino would be located in Rosemont, regardless of whether Emerald's license is revoked, based on a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court last year. That ruling said state law required gambling regulators to renew Emerald's license and allow it to relocate to Rosemont, they said.

Madigan's office disagrees with Rosemont's interpretation of that ruling and has said the casino would not have to be located in Rosemont.

Lawmakers vote to bar minors from driving with cell phones

SPRINGFIELD — For teenagers like 17-year-old Adam Bonefeste, part of driving is talking on his cell phone with friends.

"It's the only time I talk on the phone," the Springfield High School senior said. "I talk so much on the phone while I'm in the car, it's just like second nature."

It's a habit he and his friends will have to change if Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs a piece of legislation approved by Illinois lawmakers Wednesday.

The proposal would ban 16- and 17-year-olds from talking on cell phones while driving — even if they use hands-free devices. Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch did not immediately know Wednesday if the governor would sign it.

Lawmakers hope such a ban will help reduce auto accidents in Illinois by removing a distraction for rookie drivers.

But Bonefeste and Leslie Cornell, also a senior at the school, are convinced their driving isn't affected by talking on the phone.

"I suppose it's probably true that teens have more accidents or something like that ... but I don't think there's any connection with cell phones," Cornell said.

Besides, she said, adults are probably just as distracted by cell phones, so if the state wants to ban drivers from talking on cell phones, the ban should cover everyone.

The Chicago City Council took that step earlier this month.

Starting in July, anyone caught using a hand-held cell phone while driving in the city can be fined $50 or more; hands-free devices will still be allowed.

Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, a supporter of the bill to keep cell phones out of the hands of young drivers on the road, said he didn't think there was enough support for applying a similar ban on hand-held phones for all drivers statewide.

For drivers who just got their licenses, cell phone can be a big distraction, Cullerton said. "It's clear that young people who are driving have such a high crash rate because of distractions," he said.

He noted that lawmakers have passed other measures in recent years to limit distractions for young drivers, such as the number of passengers under the age of 18 they can have in a car.

The Senate voted 41-16 Wednesday in favor of the bill to ban cell phone use by drivers under age 18; the House passed the same legislation 108-6 last week.


The bill is SB210.

On the Net: http://www.ilga.gov

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