SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois House bill that was seen as one of the last hopes for keeping open the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia is dead in committee, according to the bill's chief sponsor.
Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said House Democrats, who hold a majority in the chamber, informed him that House Bill 97 can't be heard in committee because there are "just too many bills going" at the moment.
The bill sought a review of what has happened to former residents of the Jacksonville Developmental Center, which the state has closed. The Jacksonville center, like Murray Center, was a state-run institution for people with developmental disabilities.
The bill was a priority for Meier, a freshman state lawmaker. Murray Center has been home to about 270 residents and employs about 600.
"I'm afraid that what's happened to House Bill 97 is the same thing that's going to happen to some of our Murray Center residents. We've just given them a death sentence," Meier said Thursday evening.
Gov. Pat Quinn wants to close Murray Center to save money and to give the residents a better quality of life in private, "community care" settings. The state Department of Human Services says it costs about $220,000 per year to care for someone at Murray Center, compared to about $100,000 per year in a private facility.
Murray Center supporters dispute the figures and say some residents have disabilities that are too profound for residing outside an institution.
The bill asked that DHS track the progress of former Jacksonville residents over a six-month period, prior to closing any more state-operated developmental centers. Murray Center supporters contend that some former Jacksonville residents have fared poorly in the transition to private care, even suffering physical injuries.
Murray Center supporters had hoped the legislation would at least delay the closure.
"We wanted the state to take the time, go through this, and do it correctly, instead of paying somebody to move them out of there as fast as they could, and then say, 'Yeah, we closed another downstate facility, now we can go up to Chicago and spend some more money,'" Meier said.
The bill had been assigned to the House's Human Services Committee. Its chairwoman, Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday evening. The committee has no members from the metro-east or south of Springfield.
Meier said a federal lawsuit filed by a group of parents of Murray Center residents is now probably "the only hope" for keeping the center open. The parent group filed the suit last month against the state.
Meier, speaking from his statehouse office, said: "If I shut my door right now, I'd probably break down and start crying. I pray for those families every day. I just ask that everybody else keep praying for them."
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.