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Bill To Cut Free Museum Days Softened To Keep Letting Kids in for Free

By David Matthews | April 16, 2015 11:42am | Updated on April 16, 2015 1:02pm
 The Art Institute in winter.
The Art Institute in winter.
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Flickr/Chad K

MUSEUM CAMPUS — The state lawmakers who proposed a bill that would cut the number of free museum days here by half have softened their stance amid new opposition from an influential Chicago alderman. 

Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) amended the proposal Wednesday so that the 52 free museum days would only be reduced for adult Illinois residents at least 18 years old. The bill would still cut the number of free museum days for adults to 26. 

The amendment was filed the same day Aldermen Ed Burke (14th) and Joe Moore (49th) proposed a nonbinding resolution in the City Council pleading with the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner to oppose the legislation.

The resolution notes that, since 1891, Chicago museums have been obligated to offer free admission days to Illinoisans in exchange for occupying public land. 

Burke, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, has served as alderman since 1969, chairs the Council's Finance Committee, and is described as "dean of the Chicago City Council" on the city's website.

Moore also could not be reached for comment.

Sosnowski's amendment would only last for five years after his proposed law is enacted. It also specifies that during those five years, public museums must offer at least six free days each year from June through August for adults and children.

Larry Suffredin, a Cook County commissioner and lawyer who is acting on behalf of Museums in the Park, said the organization representing 11 institutions on Chicago Park District land supports the bill as amended by Sosnowski. 

Nearly 40 percent of Chicago museum visitors are admitted for free, Suffredin said, and guests already have avenues through Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Public Library system to get in at no cost. He argued that fewer free days will help the museums better prepare for the big crowds free days bring. 

"What we’re trying to do is figure out how to better manage free days so you don’t have long lines," Suffredin said. "We don't think we're going to be limiting the [free day] opportunities."

Sosnowski said he amended his bill after speaking with state museum officials. With next Friday being the bill deadline for the general assembly's spring session, Sosnowski hopes his bill will come up for a full house vote next week.

"The goal is just to give a little bit of relief [to museums]," Sosnowski said. "Fifty-two is just a bit too many."

A spokeswoman for Rauner on Thursday reiterated the governor's stance that he would "carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk."

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