Proposed Bill Paves Way for Water Privatization Boom in Illinois

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Jul. 16, 2013

Water resource management, with impacts sweeping across public health, food production, security, energy, industry, and environmental sustainability, is one of the most consequential economic and societal drivers today.

Legislation currently on Governor Quinn’s desk could dramatically alter the way Illinois manages its own water resources. House Bill 1379 would allow Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois, two of the state’s largest private water companies, to expedite acquisitions of municipal water systems and increase customer rates to fund their expansion.

Lawmakers claim easing restrictions on water and sewage system outsourcing is a pragmatic way for cash strapped municipalities across the state to save money on utility management.

Critics of the proposed legislation insist water and sewage privatization is a dangerous gamble with an essential public resource that will cost Illinois residents.

Non-profit water advocacy group Food and Water Watch explains that multinational water corporations are beholden to stockholders, not the public they serve, which inevitably limits transparency and public accountability. This can result in problems like unequal water and sewage services, because privately owned water utilities are prone to “cherry-pick” profitable, high-volume service areas and neglect low-income areas where lower volume and bill collection problems hinder profitability.

Opponents also criticize private water corporations for instituting steep consumer rate-hikes.Food & Water Watch reports that private water utilities charge 33 percent more for water and 63 percent more for sewer service, on average, than local government utilities.

While HB 1379 supporters hold steadfast to cost-effective arguments for this impetus to overhaul water privatization in Illinois, the state’s record of privatization, thus far, seriously calls into question the wisdom of that position.

From the Illinois State Lottery and state tollways, to the Chicago Skyway and parking meters, privatization contracts have not proven to be good deals for the people or the governments of Illinois.

As global freshwater becomes increasingly scarce, the ramifications of selling off public water resources could go far beyond what Illinois legislators have really considered. Now, more than ever, the importance of ensuring quality, public interest based management of this diminishing resource cannot be overstated.

HB 1379 could become law any day now. Opponents encourage concerned Illinois residents to tell Gov. Quinn to veto the proposed legislation and stop water privatization.

Quinn Demands Stricter Provisions to Concealed-Carry Bill

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Jul. 3, 2013

At a press conference Tuesday, Governor Pat Quinn announced what he called “common sense changes” to the General Assembly’s concealed-carry bill. The governor vetoed several specific measures in the proposed legislation, citing “serious safety problems” and too many provisions “inspired by the National Rifle Association, not the common good.”

Quinn’s revisions include a move to ban concealed weapons inside places that serve alcohol, and to limit permitted gun owners only one concealed weapon, holding a maximum of 10 rounds of ammunition, to be carried at a time. The governor also nixed a provision to prevent home-rule towns from passing assault weapon bans, tightened a partial-conceal provision to complete-conceal, and moved to give employers more regulatory discretion over guns in their businesses.

The fate of Illinois concealed-carry is now back in the legislature, where assembly members will vote to reject or approve Quinn’s revisions. Overriding the governor requires a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers.

While Quinn’s Democratic party holds significant majorities in the General Assembly, this does not guarantee his revisions will be passed. The gun control debate is largely divided along urban-rural lines, and plenty of downstate Democratic assembly members are prepared to fight alongside traditional Republican voices like the Illinois State Rifle Association to override Quinn’s changes. Leading Democrats including House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have also moved to reject the governor’s amendatory vetoes.

Sponsoring Representative Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, describes Quinn’s changes as a “total rewrite,” and accuses the governor of “political pandering to Chicago.” He argues that if the governor was serious about the revisions, he would have had a legislative member running a trailer bill to make changes, rather than springing them on the General Assembly a mere week before the deadline.

The deadline Representative Phelps refers to is the July 9th date imposed on Illinois last December by a federal appeals court, which found the state’s law banning residents from carrying concealed guns in public unconstitutional. The court mandated Illinois, the only state in the country with a concealed weapon ban, to pass new concealed-carry gun legislation within six months.

With the federal deadline looming less than a week away, there is rising concern that legislative agreement on the governor’s rewrites may not be reached in time. If that were to happen, Illinois would be left with a wide-open concealed-carry law that even sponsors of the concealed-carry bill are hoping to avoid.