Senate rejects altered prison sales measure

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate on Thursday rejected Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempt to boost state coffers by charging prison inmates higher prices for toiletries, snacks and other goods.

The General Assembly agreed last spring to increase the markup on prison commissary items, but the money was to go to help make those shops self-supporting, said state Sen. Larry Walsh, D-Elwood, who sponsored the bill.

IP bill gets thumbs up from panel

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Power and Exelon Corp. won the first battle Wednesday in their fight to speed approval of a merger of the two utilities and the rate hike on which that deal hinges.

On a 7-3 vote, a Senate committee approved legislation that would allow the Illinois Commerce Commission to conduct a review of the proposed sale of Illinois Power within nine months, rather than 11, and to set rates now for 2007 through 2010.

Prison employees seek $10.6 million to increase staffing

SPRINGFIELD – Union corrections workers are asking the General Assembly to put more money into this year's budget to ease what they say is a dangerous staffing shortage in Danville and at other state prisons.

"When inmates see that you don't have a full staff in the unit, they know that they can get away with extra things, so there's always that added threat," said Rick Depratt, a correctional officer at the Danville prison for the past 16 years. "We need these facilities brought up to full staffing levels to show these inmates that they are going to be guarded securely. It's not just for our security, it's for theirs, too."

State gives I-57 exit plan views

SPRINGFIELD – State transportation officials Tuesday said that Rantoul and Thomasboro will need to clear two more hurdles before a new Interstate 57 interchange can be built.

The Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce and the village of Rantoul and Thomasboro have been lobbying the state to build an interchange at County Road 2700 E for the last seven years.

Ex-senator endorses utility plan

SPRINGFIELD – Former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon on Monday endorsed Chicago-based Exelon Corp.'s purchase of Illinois Power and the fast-track legislation on which that merger depends.

"It is the best bet in my opinion," said Simon, a southern Illinois Democrat.

Lawmakers seeking changes in budget

SPRINGFIELD – Budget problems, a proposed utility merger, ethics and the death penalty are atop lawmakers' agendas as veto session begins Tuesday in Springfield.

The six-day term, Nov. 4-6 and Nov. 18-20, is meant to deal with the more than 100 vetoes and amendatory vetoes the governor issued since the General Assembly left town in May, but some new legislation may see action as well.

Legislator sends state-funded mailers she once decried

SPRINGFIELD – State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, recently sent out a six-page mailer to more than 34,000 residents in her district, touting her actions in the General Assembly this spring and talking about new legislation.

It was paid for by the state, with tax dollars appropriated to each legislator through a district office allowance.

Relaxed weight limit urged

SPRINGFIELD – Farmers should be given a little leeway during harvest time when it comes to truck weight limits, said state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville.

Black is proposing a new state law barring law enforcement officials from using portable scales to weigh agricultural trucks on non-interstate highways between Sept. 15 and Nov. 30 of each year.

Utility unveils new version of bill

SPRINGFIELD – Late Thursday, Commonwealth Edison released a new version of a fast-track bill the company is pushing in advance of its proposed purchase of Illinois Power.

Exelon Corp. and Dynegy, the parent companies of the two utilities, are in exclusive talks for the sale, which would give ComEd control of 85 percent of the state's electricity market.

Board trustee selection debated

SPRINGFIELD – The governor would have far less latitude in making appointments to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees under legislation state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, introduced Wednesday.

HB 3874, which would also apply to the state's other public universities, requires the governor to make his board appointments from a list of three choices provided by the school's alumni association.