There are many topics to cover following a very busy week in Springfield. This week’s e-news details the reopening of the Murphysboro Life Skills Re-Entry Center, continued efforts by House Republicans to pass legislation to protect DCFS workers, legislation I’m sponsoring to assist mental health care patients, and my NO vote on a plan to split the Southern Illinois University system into two separate Universities.
Before we get started though, I want to take this space to congratulate one of my good friends, and an all around great guy, Carlos Sequeira on the occasion of becoming a US citizen! Carlos’ Naturalization Ceremony was earlier this week but I could not attend due to being in Session in Springfield.
I sent my husband Rick and our Latin Affairs Liaison Gloria Campos were there to congratulate Carlos on this momentous day! So proud of you Carlos! Thank you to the Honorable Federal Judge John Phil Gilbert for presiding!
Reopening of Murphysboro Life Skills Re-Entry Center Means Jobs for Southern Illinois, Increased Public Safety
In November of 2015, I joined correctional officers from the Illinois Department of Corrections for a press conference to announce that she had introduced legislation to reopen and re-purpose the shuttered Murphysboro correctional facility. Two years and five months later, 20 inmates have been transferred in to the newly reopened Murphysboro Re-entry Center.
This is a big win for Southern Illinois and for the safety of the staff and inmates at Correctional centers across Illinois. It has taken a lot of effort, pushing and prodding, and a lot of cooperation between state agencies and all the players involved to get this done. I am proud to be a Murphysboro resident, and I am proud to have fought to reopen this facility to help with prison overcrowding and to help reduce recidivism in our prisons. The facility is expected to support 100 permanent good-paying jobs for residents living in the region.
The re-entry program will be open to minimum security offenders who are 40 years old or younger, and with one to three years left in their sentence.
If we put someone back on the street again with no skills, no money, no support system, they are likely to re-offend and return to prison. We cannot afford to support this revolving door any longer. We can’t just keep cycling people through the correctional system. It simply costs too much money. The goal of the re-entry program is to ensure that each inmate that leaves the facility has necessary life skills they will need to get a job and be a productive member of society when they return to the outside.
The Murphysboro facility is one of three Life-Skills Re-entry Centers slated to open in Illinois as part of Governor Rauner’s plan to safely reduce the prison population and restructure the state’s criminal justice system. The first Life-Skills Re-entry Center opened in Kewanee, Illinois in February of 2017. The Department is working to launch another Life Skills Re-entry Center for females at Logan Correctional Center. Offenders who have one to four years left on their sentence qualify for placement at the Life Skills Re-entry Centers.
Push Continues to Protect DCFS Workers
You may recall that last week we discussed the story of Pamela Knight, a DCFS worker that was brutally attacked by a parent when she was trying to take a child out of an unsafe home. Unfortunately, Mrs. Knight fell into a coma after her attack and eventually died as a result of her injuries. As you may know, DCFS investigators and child protection staff sometimes are required to remove children from dangerous and unhealthy environments.
|Rep. McCombie and Pamela Knight’s family in Springfield|
In response to this horrific incident, my friend and colleague Rep. Tony McCombie filed legislation that would place DCFS workers in the same category as police, firefighters, correctional officers, and other human service workers in regard to instances of assault. The bill is an appropriate response to a tragic situation, and also addresses a major issue facing state employees that perform a vital and dangerous service for at-risk children.
I detailed for you last week the process by which Democrats on the House Judiciary Criminal Law Committee stopped Rep. McCombie’s bill from moving forward. The reasoning behind the opposition to the bill was stated to be that ‘penalty enhancements don’t work to prevent crime’.
Multiple Republican-sponsored measures that would have changed the possibility of bail for certain violent crimes, curbed gang recruitment, protected children from sex offenders, and increased penalties for individuals dealing in sex trafficking were voted down by the Democrat majority on the Committee.
In response to her bill being voted down, Rep. McCombie held a Statehouse press conference this week to once again call for justice for Pam Knight, and for protection for DCFS workers. As a member of the House Judiciary Criminal Law Commitee, I was happy to join Rep. McCombie, Rep. Demmer, and Rep. Stewart, along with members of Pam Knight’s family to call attention to this very important issue. You can watch the entire press conference by clicking here.
Voting NO on Splitting SIU in Two
On Thursday, I voted to stop an outright attack on Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale campus by House Speaker Michael Madigan’s top lieutenants. State Rep. Jay Hoffman of Collinsville marshaled the leverage afforded to the Democrat majority to rush a proposal to the House’s Higher Education Committee that would split the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses into two separate universities.
As a Murphysboro resident, as a supporter of SIU-C, and as a member of the House Higher Ed Committee, I firmly believe that Southern Illinois University will be healthier and more attractive as a cohesive unit, and I believe splitting the system apart will weaken it. SIU Carbondale is a nationally accredited research University. The loss of that accreditation would be devastating, leaving the University of Illinois as the only accredited higher education research facility in Illinois. SIU Carbondale is also in a period of transformation and reorganization and this is another in a long line of recent attacks on Southern Illinois’ flagship university.
My Republican colleagues on the committee expressed concerns with a number of facets in the amendments to the bill, and pushed back against claims that SIU Edwardsville has had an explosion in enrollment growth over the last 7 years.
SIU Edwardsville’s enrollment has actually gone down slightly over the period of the last 7 years. So, if the argument is that SIU Edwardsville is growing so fast that it needs more money, then let’s study that. The numbers do not seem to bear that out, but I believe a third party should provide an independent analysis of the effect that a move like this would have on not only the Carbondale campus, but on the entire region’s economy.
HB 1292 passed the Committee and the bill was sent to the full House by a partisan roll call margin of 12 to 7, with all Republican State Representatives voting no.
Thursday’s hearing, and last week’s joint press statement have made very clear that a bipartisan group of legislators from Southern Illinois oppose the plan to split SIU into two different universities. I want to thank my southern Illinois colleagues for standing up for SIU Carbondale and I pledge that I will continue to fight against this effort. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration, where it’s sponsor has promised to continue discussions with the House’s Higher Ed Committee if any changes are made to the bill.
HB 4998 will Assist Released Mental Health Care Patients
This week I also received unanimous support from the Illinois House of Representatives for legislation that would provide individuals released from Illinois Department of Human Services facilities with valid State of Illinois identification.
I believe HB 4998, is necessary to support a ‘continuum of care’ for people dealing with mental health issues. Improving mental health care outcomes is a major issue facing our country and our state. This bill will improve outcomes for mental health care patients in Illinois. When a person has completed treatment and has been cleared to leave a state supported facility, either fully released or under supervision, I believe they should be provided with a proper identification if they do not have one. It helps people get off to a better start.
The momentum behind the movement to improve overall outcomes for mental health care patients, or for individuals in foster care that leave the state’s care mental health facilities need a hand up when they are ready to return to society. A valid ID can help someone find housing, transportation, and work. Maybe it is a small step, but I feel it is an important one.
After passing the House by a vote of 111-0, HB 4998 moves to the Illinois Senate for consideration.
Supporting Fair Legislative Maps – TAKE THE POLL!
My Republican colleague, Rep. Peter Breen filed legislation this week to take politics out of Illinois’ legislative map-drawing process and instead ensure a transparent, objective, and fair process for adopting legislative maps. Breen’s proposal, drafted in cooperation with nationally recognized fair map expert, Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), would invite everyone in Illinois to submit
proposed maps, which would be ranked by how few towns and counties are split to form districts, and then by compactness of districts drawn. The House and Senate would then have the option of adopting one of the top three fairest maps, or else allowing the top-ranked map to go into law. If the General Assembly does not put fair maps on the ballot in 2018, Breen’s fair maps amendment is drafted to meet the legal requirements for a potential citizen-led ballot initiative in 2020.
The House Republican Caucus has launched an online poll where you can express your opinion on this issue.
Breen’s HJRCA 46 would amend the Legislative Article of the Illinois Constitution to make the Legislative Redistricting Commission the primary driver of the mapping process, instead of the General Assembly. The commission would provide tools to the public to draw and submit maps and then apply the objective scoring rubric to submitted maps, presenting the top three to the General Assembly.
HJRCA 46 retains and repurposes the current constitutional participants in the mapping process—the commission, General Assembly, and Secretary of State—in order to conform with Illinois court decisions about citizen-led fair map initiatives. The amendment also adds one member to the Illinois House, from 118 to 119, both to give the body an odd number of legislators and to meet the Illinois court requirement that any citizen-led change must include a “structural” change.