Legislators tackle speed limits for semis, overtime and steroids testing

Doug Finke and Adriana Colindres

Both the Illinois House and Senate approved bills Thursday that would raise the speed limit for heavy trucks on rural interstate highways to 65 miles per hour.

However, the two chambers did not approve identical bills, so more work is necessary before the legislation can be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The speed limit for cars on interstate highways is 65, but for semis the speed limit is 55. Traffic safety experts believe having two different limits increases the chances of accidents on the roads.

"This is an economic thing for the industry," said Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Granville. "It's also safer if everybody is moving a the same speed."

Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, wasn't convinced. When Missouri went to a uniform speed, Harmon said, fatalities jumped.

"It's a safety issue," Harmon said.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, countered that Missouri made speeds uniform on all roads, not just rural interstates. Both Illinois bills will allow big trucks to travel 65 on open rural interstates, Sullivan said.

Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, said she wanted nothing to do with increasing the truck speed on Interstate 55, a highway she uses twice a week when the legislature meets. She noted that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed a bill raising the speed limit on the highway, probably because he realized how dangerous it was.

House Bill 3956 passed on a 77-35 vote in the House. It now goes to the Senate.

Senate Bill 1467 was approved on a 38-14 vote. It now goes to the House. Neither bill affects Cook County. In addition, the House version also exempts the five counties that surround Chicago.

Mandatory overtime

State workers could reject mandatory overtime under a bill approved by a 52-5 margin in the Illinois Senate.

Senate Bill 1369 says state employees cannot be forced to work more than a 40-hour week unless the shift has been approved in advance. State workers have complained for years that state facilities are so understaffed that employees are forced to work onerous amounts of overtime. They complain the overtime is often assigned at the last minute, causing problems in state workers' personal lives.

Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said overtime cost the state in excess of $60 million last year. For that amount, Bomke said, hundreds of new employees could have been hired, making it unnecessary for workers to put in overtime.

Some lawmakers blamed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who used to brag about cutting the state work force, even if it meant amassing large amounts of overtime.

Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, said the issue of adequate staffing is a collective bargaining issue that public employee unions should take up during contract talks. He said he was told that never happens.

"I disagree that this is all about collective bargaining," said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, a strong supporter of the bill. "It's about quality of life. It will allow families to spend time with each other."

Sponsoring Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, said there are precautions in the bill to ensure state facilities, like prisons and mental health facilities, are adequately staffed even if the bill is in effect.

The legislation now goes to the House.

Steroids testing

Illinois high school athletes would be subject to random testing for steroids and other banned, performance-enhancing substances under a plan the House of Representatives approved Thursday, 116-0.

Similar laws in other states have succeeded in deterring steroid abuse by young people, said the plan's sponsor, Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo.

Under his bill, students with a confirmed, positive test result would be prohibited from athletic competition for a certain period of time. Test results would be kept confidential, with the outcome known only to the student, his or her parents and coach and top school officials, Franks said.

The Illinois High School Association would administer the drug testing, which would expand on the IHSA's existing policy of randomly testing student-athletes in a state series competition, such as basketball playoffs.

The program would be funded through higher fines imposed on individuals convicted of drug offenses.

House Bill 272 now advances to the Illinois Senate. To become law, it still must pass there and be signed by the governor.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 ordoug.finke@sj-r.com. Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 oradriana.colindres@sj-r.com.