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Bill Affects Inmate Health Care

Story by WBGZ Radio

An Illinois lawmaker said a bill awaiting the governor’s signature takes local private-sector options away from prison officials who want to contract for inmate health care services.

The bill, which is supported by the Illinois Nurses Association, would prevent state-employed health care workers from being put into lesser jobs and keep wardens from hiring a private sector contractor to provide the same services.

State Sen. Dan McConchie, who represents the 26th District, said the fact the bill adds the restrictions without addressing actual staffing issues, is a sign it actually is faux legislation being used to protect union jobs.
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“The reason I oppose this piece of legislation is it mandates certain minimums in regards to staffing for prisons without any regard whatsoever to the actual circumstances in these prisons and how it could change over time,” he said.

He said legislation like this takes local decisions away from local officials, which creates a negative outcome.

“This really ties the hands of the ability of individual administrators who are trying to do the best that they can with the ... taxpayer resources they have available in order to run their prison,” he said.

McConchie said the proposed law also is a perfect example of how the private sector could help reduce government costs – and how government workers fight so hard against such attempts.

If a warden of a certain prison wants the ability to subcontract out services that can better be done by the private sector, they would essentially not be able to do that,” he said. “They would have to hire full-time employees that would be then on the state payroll instead.”

The author of the legislation, state Rep. Gregory Harris (D-Chicago), said it was put together in response to recent court cases ordering the state to improve inmate care. He also said locking staff levels in place and protecting them with the elimination of sub-contracting options will lead to better health care outcomes for inmates.

“We want to maintain as much stability in the nursing staff in the Department of Corrections as we can,” Harris said. 

McConchie said it’s more likely a legislative tactic being used to protect the Democrats’ union turf, a favor that will be returned at the ballot box in November.

“This is obviously an initiative of the unions,” he said. “They are trying to maintain their base of people that they have who are working in the state government on the taxpayers’ dime.”
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