SPECIAL REPORT: Illinois House reverses course, upholds veto; split speeds to stay

| 11/16/2004

In a massive reversal, the Illinois House of Representatives upheld Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto of SB2374 during a late afternoon vote Tuesday, Nov. 16. The vote means the state will keep its split speed limit on rural interstates.

The House, which voted 81-37 in favor of the measure earlier this year to kill the split speeds, voted 69-49 against overriding the veto.

The reaction from OOIDA, which had supported both the bill and the override effort, was quick.

"When you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with something else," Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said. "That certainly seems to be the strategy that was employed to reject a safe, sane uniform speed limit policy for the state.

"What shocks me is that people at the highest level of government, supposedly intelligent people, will not only believe, but embrace totally bogus and irrelevant information, and then make policy and law based on it. The scary part for the rest of us, is that this isn't an isolated example. Those people that provide bad and misleading information provide it on everything. It's little wonder that people are pessimistic about elected officials and lawmakers.

"It's a prime example where scare politics and hysteria trumps common sense and sound judgment."

SB2374 would have eliminated provisions in Illinois law that set up a slower, 55 mph speed limit for any vehicle over 8,000 pounds traveling on rural interstates. Other vehicles on those roads can travel 65 mph; all speed limits would have remained 55 mph in urban areas.

The bill cleared the Senate the first time on March 4, passing by a vote of 37-15. It gained approval in the House May 18. However, Blagojevich vetoed the measure Aug. 18, as he did a similar bill last year.

The Illinois Senate voted 41-17 to override Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto Tuesday, Nov. 9. Shortly afterward, Blagojevich, his staff and allies kicked into high gear, opening a full-scale effort to stop an override vote in the House.

"Raising the speed limit for trucks means more people will die on Illinois highways," the governor said in a statement. "The safety of families who travel on Illinois highways is more important than any arguments advanced by the trucking industry. That's why I'm urging the House to uphold my veto of SB 2374."

Blagojevich was joined in his efforts by the family of Paulette Nelson, who died in a collision on the Dan Ryan Expressway. However, the collision that took Nelson's life occurred on an interstate in urban Chicago, which would not be affected by the bill because it would only apply to rural highways.

The governor also drummed up support from AAA Chicago Motor Club, the State Police and Illinois DOT officials, all of whom joined him in fighting the bill and supporting the veto.

Despite the stepped up opposition, supporters of the bill continued to pound away at the governor and his allies on the bill, even down to the last moments of the override debate, mere seconds before the vote Tuesday.

"I wouldn't stand before you and ask you to vote for something that I thought was unsafe or that I thought would endanger our families," State Rep. John E. Bradley, D-Marion, a sponsor of the bill, told the House during the debate. "The statistics I've seen . is that the roadways are safer when vehicles travel at the same rate of speed.

"The statistics that have been demonstrated in opposition to this important piece legislation are taken out of context and do not reflect the entire situation with regard to this bill."

To see how House lawmakers voted on the override, click here, and then click on the link that says "SB2374 - Motion - Tuesday, November 16, 2004."

- By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor