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Madigan pushes independent Lincoln museum agency

Published: Sunday, May 25, 2014 11:23 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – House Speaker Michael Madigan's proposal to form an independent state agency to run the popular Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is scheduled for a committee hearing Monday in Springfield.

The powerful Chicago Democrat made the proposal Friday to transfer authority over the Springfield-based Lincoln attractions away from the Historic Preservation Agency, creating a new agency with its own executive director and board.

The new entity would join a list of agencies that function independently of the governor's office, a provision spelled out in Madigan's legislation, although board members would be appointed by the governor.

A popular tourist stop that's drawn more than 3 million visitors since opening in April 2005, the library and museum saw interest renewed by Steven Spielberg's 2012 film "Lincoln." The library's collection of rare documents serves as a trove for researchers.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times the speaker thinks the Lincoln attraction "deserves to be a stand-alone entity." Brown didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The new agency would streamline hiring and collection acquisition, which have become bogged down in lengthy approval processes, said Steven Beckett, a University of Illinois law professor who chairs an advisory board for the library and wrote the initial legislation. The advisory board would become the initial board for the new agency under the proposal.

Beckett said the Historic Preservation Agency, which oversees 56 historic sites and memorials in the state, has different priorities and would benefit from the change.

"We have the most significant state historic site and it just isn't working," Beckett said Saturday. He cited delays in approving a gift of historic papers to the Lincoln library from the family of the late Gov. Adlai Stevenson as an example of inefficiency.

Beckett said his draft of the legislation didn't specify that the new agency would function independently of the governor's office. That language was added by Madigan's office, Beckett said. He said he didn't know why.

Gov. Pat Quinn spokesman David Blanchette said the Lincoln library is the only presidential library operated by a state government agency, which puts it in a unique situation compared to federally run presidential libraries.

"We welcome the policy discussion that this legislation will generate, and we are interested to see what the members of the General Assembly have to say about it," Blanchette said in an email to the AP.

Chris Wills, spokesman for Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Director Amy Martin, said Martin had no additional comment beyond that of the governor's spokesman.

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