Dear Senator Jacobs,
Please let me start by thanking you for giving Janet Schuler and myself the opportunity to meet with you on April 20, 2005. I appreciate your offer to consider sponsoring new legislation which would both help blind men and women in Illinois while also continuing a legacy that your grandfather started many years ago.
Self employed blind men and women in Illinois have never faced as many compliance issues with state agencies as we have under this current Administration. We have continually been denied access to D.N.R. properties, state prisons, and other agencies that refuse to comply with state law 2420. The Department of Human Services who is licensed by the Department of Education in Washington D. C. to administer the Randolph Sheppard program has also continually failed in their responsibility. D.H.S. has refused continually to enforce state law 2420 and it’s adherence in relation to our preference on state properties.
I have compiled many memos to Doctor Carol Adams, Secretary of D.H.S. pleading for her assistance. However, I have seldom received any correspondence in return. Several years ago D.H.S. was given the opportunity to bid on the troop dining contract at Great Lakes Naval Station which clearly fell under the Randolph Sheppard priority. At that time D.H.S. Secretary Howard Peters refused to file federal arbitration to secure this contract for blind men and women instead he chose to work with Goodwill Industries. After Secretary Peters left his position, the new appointment to this position was filled by Ms. Linda Rena Baker, Secretary D.H.S. She carefully reviewed the Great Lakes issue and realized that the Randolph Sheppard priority on Department of Defense properties was not ruled on by one but by two federal courts in our favor. Secretary Baker then quickly filed federal arbitration. However the arbitration panel never ruled on the priority, instead we were denied because of the length of time that it took D.H.S. to file for federal arbitration. D.H.S. along with the Attorney General’s office then appealed this decision however between the times that this appeal was filed and the time that a decision would have been rendered a new set of circumstances came forward. Apparently in this window of time the first contract between Goodwill Industries and the Department of Defense ran its course. The new contract came up for bid again and once more the Department of Human Services failed to bid on it in our behalf and insert the Randolph Sheppard priority. In our circle we call these types of actions by our agency “Infinite wisdom or shooting themselves in the proverbial foot”.
Please keep in mind that this was a multi million dollar loss and dashed away hopes of blind men and women ever having a health insurance program which they so desperately need. Brian Hibbler, a constituent of yours from the Quad Cities is a diabetic and is only one example. Many others just like Brian have many health concerns that are directly related to their blindness. Without a group insurance plan individually our blind vendors are deemed uninsurable or at a minimum unaffordable.
Perhaps I can shed some light on why exactly the Department of Human Services and more so the Governor’s office is refusing to force state agencies to comply with state law 2420. I have been involved with ongoing discussions over the Governor’s Corporate Sponsorship Initiative. The Governor’s office has contracted with Team Services which is a marketing company located on the east coast. They’re responsibility is to sell naming rights on state property to corporate America. Currently they are negotiating with all of the Illinois bottlers such as Coca Cola, Pepsi and others to not only sell naming rights but to force blind vendors across the state of Illinois to sell a product which they have no choice in.
I have been having dialog in good faith on behalf of my constituents. Due to the fact that the Governor’s office does not share my opinion that blind men and women have preference on state property, they have offered nothing in the way of revenue sharing in this Corporate Sponsorship Initiative.
Bottlers have inform me that the only way that Corporate Sponsorship can work would be to charge blind vendors an additional $5.00 per case on bottled pop which then would be turned over to the Illinois General Fund. Not only would this put an unnecessary and costly hardship on blind men and women, it would also be passed on to state employees who work on these properties. State employees hypothetically will arrive at work one morning and be forced to pay $1.75 as apposed to $1.25 for a soft drink or be forced to go elsewhere to purchase these products. Corporate Sponsorship will also dictate to all state employees what they will drink on a daily basis because the choice will be taken away through this process.
After I completed my ten day journey on foot from Chicago to the state Capitol in Springfield, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan introduced house bill 476 which would limit what the Governor could do in the way of sponsorship on state property. Although house bill 476 passed through the House it was not voted on by the Senate due to the fact that they fell short on time and recessed for the summer. Unfortunately by the time legislators are back in session it will probably be too late because the Governor’s office I believe has a target date of July 1st for this project to be implemented.
Last year the Governor’s office with the help of our state agency went out and through scare tactics forced our blind men and women to surrender sales information and product information as it relates to soft drink beverages. Blind vendors retaliated the following week by placing thousands of calls into the Governor’s office denouncing these tactics. I am sure the Governor’s office feels that they will seal the fate of blind vendors forever come July 1st through their accessing these unnecessary costs on blind vendors. However, we are prepared to not sit back and allow these injustices. If you can lend any help or advice to this dilemma please contact me.
Cc. Tom Cullen, Lobbyist
Robert Humphreys, Legal Council
Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors