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Lawmakers oppose Quinn's plan to close facilities

Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 10:30 a.m. CST

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SPRINGFIELD (MCT) — A panel of Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday recommended against Gov.Pat Quinn'splan to close six state facilities, including the state's only super-maximum prison in Tamms.

The governor proposed closing the sites to save money, and he can choose to follow or ignore the votes taken by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

The only location the commission suggested should close was the Department of Children and Family Services office in Skokie.

Lawmakers agreed with Quinn that there should be closings but couldn't agree which places should close. The outcome reflected the contrast between Quinn's position that he's looking at the state as a whole and lawmakers who can afford to be parochial and political when looking at such issues.

For example, Sen. Matt Murphy argued the state needs to close facilities to rein in expenses, but the Republican from Palatine voted against shutting down prisons in Tamms and Dwight as well as the adult transition center in Peoria and the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia. Murphy voted in favor of closing the family services office in Skokie, the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet and the prisoner halfway house on Chicago's West Side.

Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, said they support the push for more community-based group care rather than institutionalization, but they voted against closing the Murray site. The lawmakers from different parties and regions said Quinn isn't providing enough time or information for residents to transition safely from the center.

The governor respects the commission's input but must deal with the state's overall financial instability, said Annie Thompson, a Quinn spokeswoman.

"We have incorporated a great deal of their input into our facility closure plans; however, we must continue to deal with our budget challenges and make the difficult decisions necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois," Thompson said. "We will continue to work with legislators … as this process moves forward."

The union with the largest number of state workers applauded lawmakers on the commission, saying they represented an example of good government and a move to preserve more than 2,000 Illinois jobs.

"Unlike the governor, they toured the facilities, visited the communities and listened to testimony from employees, advocates, local officials, individuals and families," said Henry Bayer, the executive director of Local 31 of theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "In stark contrast to the Quinn administration, they considered all the evidence, reached the sensible conclusion and rejected each of the closures."

In other action, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, has reshaped legislation that would allow citizens to make audio recordings of on-duty police officers in public. An earlier version failed in the House last month.

To appease police concerns, the new version makes clear that people who manipulate recordings can be charged with felonies. Citizens can already use video to record on-duty police officers, but the audio is not allowed to be used with the recording.

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