Will legislative fix end need for do-over mental health board referendums?

Bill would spare townships, county from redoing measures that created mental health boards

State legislators say a fix is on the way that would spare several townships and one county from redoing successful referendums last year that created new community mental health boards.

Those results could be in jeopardy because the November 2022 ballot measures failed to include required language informing voters of how establishing new tax to fund the mental health board would impact property owners.

Successful referendums in Addison, Lisle, Naperville, Schaumburg and Wheeling townships, as well as Will County, did not include that information. Only the ballot measure approved by voters in Vernon Township, in southern Lake County, did.

But a resolution may be on the way from Springfield.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Ann Gillespie, an Arlington Heights Democrat, would guarantee the results of last year's referendums. The measure passed the Senate on Oct. 25 and is awaiting a vote in the House.

Besides affirming the results, the bill also prohibits do-over referendums in 2024 in places where the measure passed last year.

"The (mental health) boards will play a vital role in ensuring everyone has access to the mental health services they need," Gillespie said after the Senate vote last month. "I'm pleased we were able to find a solution without requiring additional referendums and prevent future delays in expanding access to mental health care."

The mental health boards, also known as 708 boards, are intended to provide funding for local agencies that address mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities.

Wheeling Township so far is the body that passed a referendum in 2022 and is planning another one in 2024.

Township attorney Kenneth Florey has argued the township could face costly challenges if it levies a tax for the 708 board without a second referendum. Because the township already has voted to hold a do-over in March 2024, the new legislation would not impact that decision, he said.

Gillespie disagrees.

"I tried to word it very narrowly, with the help of Senate legal counsel, to prevent them from putting that referendum on the ballot," she said. "I think that what they're trying to do flouts the will of the voters, and I want to see what we can do to make sure that will is heard."

Schaumburg Township Supervisor Timothy Heneghan said his township said he believes the state legislation will allow it to go forward with its mental health board.

"It just seems to me that what's going on in this country and this township and the world with mental health issues and drug addictions, it's sorely needed," Heneghan said. "So, I just want to forge ahead with what we have to do to help people in the township."

State Rep. Daniel Didech, a Buffalo Grove Democrat, said he expects the bill to be considered by the House this week.

It will clarify that the referendums were validly passed and taxes to support the 708 boards can be collected, he said.

"Since we're going to cure it, it would be redundant for them to go back to referendum," Didech said.

Meanwhile, the Wheeling Township 708 board continues to function, even though its funding is in limbo.

"There technically still is a 708 board," board member James Ruffatto said. "I don't know what our effectiveness will be."

State Sen. Ann Gillespie
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