By Diane S.W. Lee
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — House lawmakers on Friday focused on the power of the written word.
Legislators approved a measure sparked by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's practice of putting his name on state road signs, as well as a proposal changing the written description of the developmentally disabled in Illinois laws.
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The former governor's tagging of tollway signs prompted legislation that would ban any future governor or lawmaker from printing their name on state highway signs.
Senate Bill 1344 would bar state lawmakers and constitutional officials from promoting state programs with their names, images or voices on billboards or electronic message boards. It would expand the existing law, which prohibits public service announcements on radio and television, as well as in commercial newspapers or magazines.
State Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, saw a potential problem with the plan. He said some Chicago lawmakers may want to promote awareness for breast cancer screening.
“What you want to do by your bill today is make that type of action or that type of outreach illegal,” he said.
Chief sponsor state Rep. Chris Nybo, R-Elmhurst, said he doesn’t see why lawmakers need to attach their names and images to state programs.
"Let’s promote the programs, but let’s not promote the politicians,” Nybo said.
Blagojevich plastered his name on open road tolling signs in time for his 2006 re-election campaign. Gov. Pat Quinn removed Blagojevich's name shortly after assuming office in 2009, following the former governor's legislative impeachment and removal from office. Blagojevich is on trial for the second time for federal corruption charges.
Nybo called the practice an inappropriate use of state resources.
State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, said the legislation will help to encourage ethical behavior among lawmakers.
“This notion that somehow we need an elected official with their face or their quote on a billboard for something that is, in fact in the best interest of everyone is silly,” Hays said.
House lawmakers voted 91-19 to send the plan to Quinn for consideration.
The terms “mental retardation” and “crippled” soon may be deemed taboo as definitions to describe mental health and developmental disabilities under Illinois statute.
Senate Bill 1833 would change “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded person” to “intellectual disability,” and “intellectually disabled person.” It also would remove “crippled” and “crippling,” replacing it with the terms “physically disabled” and “physical disabling.”
State Rep. Emily McAsey, D-Lockport, is chief sponsor of the plan.
“I urge the support of the members of this body to make our state more inclusive and remove hurtful terminology from our state statutes,” she said.
House lawmakers unanimously approved the plan, and it now awaits action from the governor. The plan unanimously cleared the Senate last month.
Co-sponsor state Rep. Patricia Bellock, R-Hinsdale, said the plan would help to give respect to those with disabilities.
“I am a big proponent and advocate of people with disabilities,” she said. “And I think this is bringing the terms that was used with disabilities out of the Middle Ages.”