Obama signs Duckworth bill to prevent veteran suicides
President Barack Obama today signed legislation cowritten by U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth aimed at trying to get veterans struggling with their mental health more help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new law is named after Clay Hunt, a former Marine from Texas who helped other veterans with their demons but ultimately took his own life in 2011.
Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, knew Hunt while she served a short stint on the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America board.
"When he fell into that hole himself, he couldn't get out," Duckworth said. "He ended up taking his own life, which was just a shock to all of us, because he was such a strong advocate for everyone."
The proposal was approved by the House in the last Congress but got stuck in the Senate when then-Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, blocked it because he was opposed to the estimated $22 million price tag.
Coburn's time in the Senate ended, and the House and Senate sent the plan to Obama early this year.
During the otherwise somber signing ceremony today, Obama referred to Duckworth as "my homegirl from the Chicago area."
Back in Congress
Duckworth traveled to Washington for the bill-signing ceremony, a move that essentially signals the end of her maternity leave. She gave birth to a daughter late last year.
She said she'll start working here in the 8th District next week and start back at the U.S. Capitol the week after.
Will Duckworth jump into a 2016 primary race for U.S. Senate?
She echoed past comments that she's considering trying to mount a challenge to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, and said she's had one conversation with the national Democrats about a run.
"I'm taking the decision very, very seriously," she said. "I want to make sure that it's the right thing to do in terms of what I can bring to the table for the people of Illinois and that it's also the right thing to do for my family, and myself and my little girl."
Among the other Democrats who have come up as potential candidates are U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Naperville, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of East Moline and state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, who replaced Obama in the Illinois Senate.
U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Plano Republican, also has renewed legislation that got stuck in the Senate in the last Congress.
He wants the Department of Energy to put more effort into developing "exascale" computing, which, as his statement describes, is "computing whose speed approaches that of the human brain."
One longer-term potential effect of the legislation is that Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont could be picked to help work on the project.
"America is falling behind as China boasts the world's fastest computer and is accelerating their progress," Hultgren said.
The financial unknown
In a hearing last week about what to do about one of the state's ongoing budget crises, Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget director revealed another one.
"Some of those prisons are going to start missing payrolls maybe as early as late March, early April," Tim Nuding said.
Does that include the youth centers for juvenile offenders like the ones in Warrenville and St. Charles? Rauner this week formed a commission aimed at reforming Illinois' justice system, but on this question, his office wouldn't say if budget trouble would hit the Department of Juvenile Justice in the same way it's expected to trouble the larger Department of Corrections.
Instead, Department of Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Meredith Krantz referred to the $1.5 billion budget hole in the spending plan created by former Gov. Pat Quinn and Democrats and said Rauner continues working with the legislature to find a responsible solution to this problem without raising taxes on Illinois families.
What additional budget powers Rauner is asking for remains a mystery.
He's scheduled to deliver to lawmakers Wednesday his proposal for next year's budget.
Keep in mind: That proposed spending plan doesn't start until July.
The shortage of money for the prison system, Illinois court reporters and a program that helps low-income families pay for day care is in the budget that's in place right now, making the state's financial problems something of a two-front war.