A BRIEF HISTORY LEADING UP TO GOVERNOR BLAGOJEVICH’S PLAN TO CRIPPLE THE BLIND AND DISABELED COMMUNITYS BY FORCING THEM TO SOLVE HIS FINANCIAL PROBLEMS.
In 1936 the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Act was passed by Congress. The intention of this Act was to create employment opportunities for people who are blind and visually impaired, by giving us the priority to operate businesses on Federal Property. Blind people currently have an unemployment rate of over 75%. The Randolph-Sheppard Act creates the opportunity for blind people to become self sufficient taxpaying citizens, as opposed to being a drain on taxpayers.
Through the years states have adopted their own versions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act. In 1974 Illinois passed 20 ILCS 2420, Blind Persons Operating Vending Facilities Act. 20 ILCS 2420 states that blind people have preference to operate businesses on all state property. Many agencies refuse to adhere to this law; rather they receive large sums of money from private vending companies for their “employee clubs”, or their “welfare funds”. These agencies violate State Law 20 ILCS 2420, by asserting that “preference” is not the same as “priority”. They are wrong. In the Illinois Supreme Court case, Stephen L. Denton v. The Civil Service Commission of the State of Illinois , Chief Justice Heiple delivered the Courts opinion in which “preference” is legally and clearly defined as “…possessing or accorded a priority, advantage, or privilege.”
Despite every legal right that is afforded to the blind community, many state agencies still do not comply with State Law 20 ILCS 2420. As a result, John Gordon, Chairman of the Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors (ICBV), entered into negotiations with Governor Blagojevich’s Administration to develop an Executive Order that would mandate compliance with State Law 20 ILCS 2420.
In January 2003, Mr. Gordon was notified that the Executive Order he had been negotiating would now be tied into a “Corporate Sponsorship Initiative” that was being developed by the Governors Office. Over the next several months Mr. Gordon attempted to educate the Governor’s Office and more specifically Special Projects Director Seth Webb, on the negative impact that such an initiative would have both on the Business Enterprise Program for the Blind (BEPB), as well as to the economy of the Sate of Illinois.
The BEPB generates nearly $20 million annually in sales. We employee hundreds of taxpayers a majority of whom are disabled Illinoisans. We purchase millions of dollars of products from Illinois wholesalers. The positive economic ripple effect created by the BEPB, would be in serious jeopardy if the Governor’s heavy handed plan was to be attempted.
After several months on April 12, 2003 , Mr. Gordon seeing the need to bring attention to this issue he began his “walk to Springfield ”. John departed Chicago ’s Federal Plaza on an eight day solo journey to Springfield . Disregarding his own personal well being and safety, John knew the importance of public support and positive media attention; he received a great deal of both. John had wondered if endangering his life for eight days for such a cause would be enough for the Governor to grant him a meeting, it apparently wasn’t. Governor Blagojevich wouldn’t meet with John. However Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan did.
During the last session of the General Assembly, Speaker Madigan introduced House Bill no. 476. HB 476 protects blind vendors from the Governor’s ill-conceived plan as well as protecting the integrity of the state of Illinois by preventing the Governor from adding a state beverage along side the state bird and the state flower. Hose Bill 476 was passed by the House and will now go to the Senate.
Over the past two years the threat of corporate sponsorship has loomed like a black cloud over the blind and disabled community. John has done everything he could to work with the Governor’s Office to help them develop a plan that would benefit both the State of Illinois and the blind community. Despite countless conversations with Seth Webb and John Moore of the Governor’s Office, they were always hesitant to respond to John in writing. On August 8, 2005 John found out why.
The Governor plans to attempt his initiative with total disregard to the blind and Mr. Webb is trying to claim that we are in total support. That is a complete LIE. We are not in support of any plan that will negatively impact the blind people in our state. Are you?
The Governor also plans to include the interstate rest areas in his scheme, however he can’t. The interstate rest areas, despite being managed by IDOT are actually federal facilities and fall under the jurisdiction of the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Does the Governor really intend to violate Federal law too?
You can be assured that there are disabled voters living within your district, this is an invitation to join us in our fight to protect our rights. Only legislators such as you can help champion our cause and protect the rights of blind people. Your support in our defense as well as for HB 476 will never be forgotten. Can you think of a reason you shouldn’t support the blind community, I didn’t think so.
We will again be calling on your support when Senator Michael Jacobs introduces legislation intended to strengthen our rights and protect the dwindling number of job opportunities that are available to blind people.
For more information or to pledge your support please call
Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors