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It’s not every day you hear the words “Captain and Tennille” spoken on the floor of the Illinois Senate. Especially during the waning days of the spring legislative session when lawmakers are trying to approve a budget, reform workers’ compensation laws, draw new legislative maps and overhaul education labor laws.

But, the musical duo from the 1970s entered into a debate last week on whether to extend the season for hunting muskrat.

The measure, sponsored by freshman state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, became the fodder for jokes not only because of its subject matter, but because it was Rezin’s first piece of legislation. Tradition holds that lawmakers give new colleagues a hard time when they present their first bill.

Rezin explained that the water-borne rodents are a nuisance. Extending the season could help control the population of the critters.

Enter state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline: “I happen to know Captain and Tennille are opposed to this bill,” said Jacobs, referring to their hit single “Muskrat Love.”

“What in the heck is muskrat love?” asked state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, asked Rezin if muskrats can be eaten by humans. For good measure, she also wondered if muskrat coats and hats are available. Both, Rezin said. In fact, she added, muskrats can be substituted for fish during Lent in at least one Catholic diocese in Michigan.

From our perch in the Senate press box, we watched as Jacobs searched for muskrat recipes on his laptop computer. He later clicked through a page of fur coats manufactured from, yes, muskrat pelts.

In the end, the measure was approved unanimously.

The whole episode apparently tired out the senators. When a measure regarding otter hunting was called for a vote, nary a joke was told.

Having a cow

The woman behind the voice of Bart Simpson testified at the Capitol last week, pitching a plan to boost character education in public schools.

Nancy Cartwright’s visit, however, ended in controversy when it was learned her proposal was based on a code of conduct created by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

After hearing objections about the state endorsing certain religious beliefs, lawmakers agreed to rewrite a resolution without any religious-based references.

Cartwright said the whole thing was overblown.

“This book is not religious,” said Cartwright, a Scientologist. “I’m just trying to help kids do a better job.”

Not all wet

It was somewhat surprising to see Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford using a helicopter to get around flood-soaked Southern Illinois last week.

We were hoping to see the avid and experienced scuba diver swimming from town to town.

Cultra speaks

During his tenure in the Illinois House, there was a joke among some Statehouse denizens that the sound technicians employed by the House often had to check Shane Cultra’s microphone to see if it was operational.

He just never spoke much.

Now that the Onarga Republican is in the Senate, he’s become chattier.

But, last week, he found himself in hot water after suggesting that parents who allow their children to become obese should not get tax breaks or any Public Aid.

“Take the tax deduction away for parents that have obese kids,” he said.

Cultra later said his comments were tongue-in-cheek. That didn’t stop the story from hitting national websites and talk shows.

Perhaps he’ll go back to his quiet ways again.

Shave and a haircut

How can you tell how long a juvenile delinquent has been staying at the state’s youth prison in Murphysboro?

Check out the hair.

The John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, said last week that the state’s inability to pay for a barber at the facility has left the kids with no way to get a trim.

“This may sound insignificant, but it poses a serious problem for the youth,” the report noted. “Youth at (state juvenile) facilities are supposed to learn about proper hygiene and to make themselves look presentable. Going a year without a haircut, particularly when given only five minutes to shower, makes proper hygiene or taking pride in one’s appearance nearly impossible.”

The problem has apparently been rectified. A barber was hired in late April.

-- Kurt Erickson is Lee Statehouse Bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-789-0865.

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