Gov. Rauner's heroin bill veto causes disappointment -- and cautious hope
A day after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a major piece of legislation aimed at decreasing heroin deaths and improving treatment and education, suburban anti-drug advocates reacted mostly with disappointment.
"I think it's disappointing that they've cut so many things out of the law," said John Roberts, president of Will County-based Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization. "What was once a comprehensive bill, a lot of it's been cut."
Yet there also was some cautious optimism Tuesday that sections of the Heroin Crisis Act that Rauner liked could become law soon.
"There's a lot of good that can come from this bill," said Chelsea Laliberte, founder of an Arlington Heights-based nonprofit heroin education and awareness group called Live 4 Lali.
Rauner deleted about 22 lines from the 256-page bill that said Medicaid must pay for all forms of opioid drug addiction treatment, saying it would be "a very costly mandate on the state's Medicaid providers." He sent the measure back to the House and said if his suggested changes are made, the bill will get his final approval.
While Rauner's office says Medicaid already covers many medications used in opioid recovery treatment, the changes Rauner has proposed could prevent people who don't have private insurance from affording the help they need, advocates say.
"Vetoing that part of it is crushing," Laliberte said about the Medicaid changes. "One of the biggest reasons that so many people are dying is that they can't get care, long-term care ... The biggest issue is people can't afford treatment."
For example, said Kane County Drug Rehabilitation Court Judge Marmarie Kostelny, many addicts placed into the alternative sentencing program have no way to pay for the substance abuse treatment they need to graduate.
"The vast majority of people in drug court situations don't have insurance," Kostelny said. "They've been addicts for quite some time."
Rauner's proposed changes also could make it more difficult for police in Lake County to begin providing immediate help from treatment professionals when they respond to heroin overdose calls, said George Filenko, police chief in Round Lake Park and a founding member of the Lake County Opioid Initiative. That's because the changes could put further stress on the budgets of substance abuse service providers.
"Without the funding or different sources of funding there's going to be a limitation on treatment providers. That's going to cause more delay and it's going to put more of an impact on the local not-for-profits," Filenko said. "That may put a little bit of a delay into the next step as far as providing that intervention, which we think is crucial."
Despite issuing an amendatory veto, Rauner expressed support for the majority of the Heroin Crisis Act, which focuses on drug courts as treatment instead of jail, requires a heroin antidote to be in the hands of all police and firefighters in the state, allows pharmacies to dispense a heroin antidote and encourages preventive education.
State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and the proposal's lead author, said he's filed a motion to override Rauner's veto and expects a vote to come next week.
If Lang succeeds, the provisions become law despite the governor's objections. If Lang's override fails, he could decide to accept the governor's changes and ask lawmakers to go along.
Lawmakers' attendance in the House was spotty Tuesday, so getting Democrats to Springfield might be one of the tallest orders facing the override attempt.
But Lang suggested that a vote to override a controversial Rauner veto of legislation outlawing a state employee strike will be considered next week, too. That override could get Democrats' attendance up. If all show, they can override Rauner even if all Republicans stick with the governor.
"I would expect attendance to be pretty good that day," Lang said.
Some provisions listed in the heroin bill that Rauner agreed with included allowing school nurses to administer naloxone, a heroin antidote, to overdosing students and requiring the state human services department and board of education to develop a three-year pilot heroin prevention program for all schools in the state.
Kris Adzia, project manager at the Robert Crown Center for Health Education in Hinsdale, said she is hopeful lawmakers can make some changes and get the bill passed.
"We're really encouraged that the governor understands the importance of the education-prevention piece," she said, adding that the center is hopeful the heroin prevention program it has introduced at several schools in the suburbs can be part of the planning process for the statewide pilot program.
The vetoed bill included numerous changes to drug court: allowing multiple entries; requiring mandatory education of state's attorneys and public defenders on substance abuse and addiction; and restricting prosecutors from being able to unilaterally block an addict's entry to drug court. Kostelny said she was in support of all the proposals and glad to see Rauner was, too.
Other measures Rauner supported within the Heroin Crisis Act came directly from suburban advocates, such as Lali's Law, created by Laliberte and Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, and Billy's Bill, created by Roberts and the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization.
Lali's Law would allow pharmacies to dispense a heroin antidote often called Narcan or naloxone and train customers on how to administer it to reverse an overdose. Billy's Bill would require hospitals to report all drug overdoses they treat to their county health department to gauge the scope of the problem statewide.
• Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell contributed to this report.