By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A vote on allowing illegal immigrants to get temporary Illinois drivers licenses passed the Senate by a 41-14 margin Tuesday after Republican leaders said they support the plan that was scheduled for a Wednesday vote in the House.
Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said floor debate convinced him that roads will be safer if undocumented aliens must take classroom training, go through a health check and prove they have insurance before getting behind the wheel.
"Uninsured motorists are a huge cost," Sullivan said.
Proponents of the bill said those costs should be reduced if up to 250,000 illegal immigrants in the state have an incentive to buy auto insurance to qualify for the three-year licenses. The Highway Safety Coalition said drivers without insurance rack up $64 million in damage claims each year.
Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, isn't convinced that immigrant drivers licenses are the right way to go. She plans to vote against the bill, although she expects it will pass.
"I'm afraid we might become a magnet and draw people from other states to get a license here," Tracy said.
The licenses would be purple, so officials could tell at a glance that they can't be used as identification for boarding trains, planes or voting.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego stood with former Gov. Jim Edgar and other Republicans earlier Tuesday to announce their support for the legislation. The legislation was sponsored by Chicago Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago. Supporters say the temporary licenses issued would look the same as those given to foreigners who are in the country legally, so police couldn't target illegal immigrants.
Edgar said two weeks ago that the measure is a sound opportunity for the GOP to reach out to Latino voters, who played a large role in the shellacking the Republicans took in the General Assembly in the Nov. 6 election. Democrats won a supermajority control of both the House and Senate.
Tracy said the House and Senate have canceled Thursday sessions, and she hopes to see a resolution seeking presidential help keeping the Mississippi River open will come up today. Sullivan put the resolution together and guided it through Senate passage last week.
"Farm Bureaus (in Western Illinois counties) came together and said it's important to the entire region to keep the river open," Sullivan said.
Within 24 hours after that request, Sullivan had drafted a request that President Barack Obama declare an emergency and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do what is necessary to keep river shipping open.
River experts say the river could be closed to barge traffic south of St. Louis within days. This year's drought and reduced releases from reservoirs along the Missouri River have led to shallow river levels. Corps officials in control of the Missouri River say they cannot consider Mississippi River flow rates as they manage western reservoirs.
Other key issues such as pension reform are not expected to come up until the Legislature convenes in early January for more than a lame duck session.
The Associated Press provided information for this story.