Ill. House approves bill to protect prison nursing jobs

The legislation was sparked by a decision last month by the DOC to privatize the jobs of 124 union nurses working in state prisons


By Doug Finke
The State Journal-Register

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois representatives approved a bill Thursday to prevent further privatization of health care jobs in state prisons.

The House voted 68-42 for the bill that was previously OK'd by the Senate. It will now be sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Reps. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, and Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, all voted for the bill. Reps. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, and Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, voted against it.

The legislation was sparked by a decision last month by the Department of Corrections to privatize the jobs of 124 union nurses working in state prisons. They are due to be laid off June 15. Corrections said the move will save the state $8 million a year.

The bill stipulates that the department needs to maintain staffing of nurses and medical technicians at levels in effect in January 2016. It would apply to roughly 300 positions.

Rep. Larry Costello, D-Smithton, said he doesn't think the state will save money from the privatization deal. He said Wexford, the company contracted to provide health care in the prisons, has a record of poor care and ending up involved in lawsuits.

"The bill does not cost the state more money," Costello said. "In my opinion, it will save the state money. Lawsuits cost tens of millions of dollars."

Rep. Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, said the issue isn't Wexford, but in setting minimum staffing requirements for nurses. He said that doesn't make sense at a time the state is trying to reduce prison populations. He also said the bill represents the General Assembly's intrusion into decisions that should be left to the governor.

However, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, raised an issued brought up by the Illinois Nurses Association that the layoffs are the result of the INA rejecting the Rauner administration's contract offer.

This isn't the first time the General Assembly has gotten involved in the prison nurse issue. The legislature passed a similar bill last year that was vetoed by Rauner. The bill died when the House failed to override the veto.

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©2017 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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