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Durbin celebrates Senate confirmation of Normal Mayor Chris Koos to Amtrak board

Normal Mayor Chris Koos, left, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in Uptown Normal on Monday, March 25, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was on hand Monday in Normal to celebrate the long-awaited appointment of Mayor Chris Koos to the Amtrak Board of Directors.

The U.S. Senate voted in January to approve Koos’ appointment to the eight-member board — nearly four years after he was first recommended for the position. The nomination had been held up for a variety of political reasons over the years.

“The Midwest will be well represented by him: He has an intimate understanding of how passenger rail can drive economic development and improve quality of life for communities,” said Durbin, D-Ill. “Bloomington-Normal is the second busiest Amtrak station in Illinois outside of Chicago — that says a lot.”

Koos said since his confirmation two months ago, he’s already attended his first board meeting, which he called “pretty impressive.”

“What will happen over the next 10-15, maybe 20 years, is going to be game-changing for Amtrak and passenger rail in the United States,” he said. “Some of the things you’re going to see announced from Amtrak are going to require patience. The infrastructure improvements are significant, will require incredible planning and execution.”

Koos said Amtrak is on-track to become a “completely different organization and a significant passenger service and transportation service in the United States.”

Amtrak received nearly $66 billion in funding for various rail projects in 2021 after Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Postal Service changes

Durbin visited Normal on Monday morning for a news conference with Koos before heading north to Downers Grove, where he said he was scheduled to join members of the National Association of Letter Carriers, the Illinois AFL-CIO and others to voice objections to a new U.S. Postal Service reorganization plan.

The plan would result in operational downsizing at mail processing facilities in Peoria, Springfield, Champaign and Milan. Those facilities would change their purpose and no longer process mail that instead would be sent to a different facility for regional processing.

Durbin was one of several lawmakers in recent weeks who have sent letters to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy urging him to reconsider the plan.

“I believe the quality of service is at stake here,” Durbin told reporters. “We’ve had too many areas of our state… that have seen real deterioration in postal service. The notion of cutting back postal operations is one that concerns me greatly.”

Supreme Court abortion case

Also Monday, Durbin said he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court “recognizes that [mifepristone] is a safe and effective drug” ahead of the court hearing a case that could decide the fate of access to the medication.

Mifepristone is the only drug approved for terminating pregnancies and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] more than two decades ago.

“I happen to believe they’re safe and effective — and they’ve proven that in decades of availability to women across America,” said Durbin. “I think this is a politically inspired effort to undermine a woman’s right to reproductive choices. America is divided on this issue, but I think the majority over and over again, even in the most conservative states, are coming down on restoring, as much as they can, the freedom that was guaranteed under the Constitution for 50 years.”

Mifepristone was called into question on April 7, when U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk imposed a nationwide ban, saying the FDA had improperly approved mifepristone 23 years ago. The court’s ruling could determine how the medication is delivered and distributed.

The Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing arguments in the case on Tuesday.

NPR contributed reporting.

Illinois Public Radio

Illinois Public Radio

Illinois Newsroom gets stories from public radio stations from across the state, including WBEZ-Chicago, WCBU-Peoria, WGLT-Normal, WVIK-Rock Island, WIUM-Macomb, WNIJ-DeKalb, WSIU-Carbondale, WUIS-Springfield, and St. Louis Public Radio.

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