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AJCommittee hires lobbyist for Illinois state Legislature

Chicago Jewish News
CHICAGO, March 18 (JTA) — Changes in how state and federal government operate has prompted at least one Jewish organization in Illinois to put a new focus on the state’s capital. The American Jewish Committee’s Chicago office recently became its first chapter in the nation to hire a professional lobbyist for Springfield. Philip Milsk, an attorney, joins Leonard Lieberman, director of the Chicago Jewish federation’s government affairs office in Springfield. The two are the Jewish community’s lobbyists in the capital. “Psychologically, Jews see Springfield as being very far away and don’t relate to it much,” said Jonathan Levine, AJCommittee regional director. However, as the state tackles welfare reform and overhauls social service agencies, it is vital that Jewish concerns are heard when legislation and policy get written, he said. “What happens in the state Legislature is much more important now than it had been heretofore,” Levine said. Milsk said there is a significant population of elderly Jewish disabled immigrants who, as non-citizens, will lose government assistance such as Supplemental Security Income and food stamps. “They are going to lose their safety net,” he said. “We’re talking about taking away a large amount from a household.” The state Legislature, he said, is becoming “more and more the focal point for the development of policy.” Other issues expected to fill Milsk’s plate for the AJCommittee, which has historically followed church-state and civil rights issues, include “the rising power of the Christian right and the significant inroads made by the Christian Coalition,” Levine said. One such organization, “Concerned Christian Americans,” has an associate director, the Rev. Robert Vanden Bosch, who has printed on his business card that he is the “Ambassador for Jesus Christ to the Illinois State Legislature.” Milsk expects to see the resurfacing of the “American Heritage Act,” which was passed last year and vetoed by Gov. Jim Edgar. The bill would have given public school teachers more latitude in using religious-based “historically significant documents.” Representatives of the American Jewish Congress, AJCommittee, Anti-Defamation League and Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council had urged Edgar to veto the bill, fearing its potential for blurring the lines between church and state. Milsk and Lieberman do not anticipate stepping on each other’s toes. “The more the merrier,” said Lieberman, whose office in the state capital opened in 1981. “I don’t have any problem with maximizing Jewish visibility. The chances of our tripping over each on issues are nil.” Allan Reich, chairman of the AJCommittee’s national affairs commission, said his group hopes “to complement rather than infringe upon what the federation is doing.”