Mental health treatment programs have become a major focal point in the contentious debate over gun control.
In Illinois, of course, most of the discussion has centered on how the state has reduced spending on mental health programs.
The National Alliance on Mental Health recently reported that Illinois has cut spending on community mental health by 30 percent over the past three years. The organization also noted that the state’s per capita spending on mental health was significantly below the national average.
In a recent report, Dr. Lorrie Jones said she doesn’t consider the system broken.
“We’ve had to make some unfortunate changes,” Jones told The Associated Press.
Jones ought to know about changes. Until last month, Jones was the person in charge of overseeing the state’s mental health system.
On Jan. 1, however, Gov. Pat Quinn moved Jones out of her post as director of the mental health division of the Illinois Department of Human Services and made her a senior policy adviser.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Jones continues to have a hand in her area of expertise, but she also is focusing on bringing Obamacare to Illinois.
“She is managing and coordinating mental health issues across state agencies and helping to lead the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” Anderson said.
Jones is the wife of former Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago. For now, she will continue to earn $193,200 per year, even though she no longer is serving as head of the mental health division.
Jones’ salary, which is larger than Quinn’s annual pay of $172,653, was put in place during Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s tenure. Records show she received a 60 percent salary bump in 2005, from $116,460 to $186,000 annually.
Records show she received a more than $5,000 raise in 2010 after Quinn took over as governor. In 2012, state records show her salary ranked among the top 35 in state government.
As a reminder, the salary increases for Jones came as the state was reducing spending on mental health treatment programs.
It remains unclear what Illinois intends to do in response to the Sandy Hook killings and other mass shootings, but Quinn aides insist the mental health division isn’t a rudderless ship.
With Jones’ departure, the director of DHS’ Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Dr. Theodora Binion, will serve as an interim chief of the mental health division.
Binion will be assisted in running the mental health operation by Dr. Debra Ferguson, senior deputy and chief of clinical operations in the mental health division.
For the first time in two weeks, members of the Illinois House were gaveled into session on Wednesday.
After about an hour of parliamentary debate and some closed-door strategy meetings, they canceled Thursday’s scheduled day of work and scooted out of town.
Quinn didn’t even make it to Springfield. He was still basking in the glow of a press conference a day earlier in which he lent his support to an effort to send thousands of pizzas to troops serving overseas.
Work on issues like pension reform, gun control and violence within the state’s prison system will have to wait another week.
Actually, no one is expecting a lot of work to happen this week, either. The spotlight will be on Quinn on Wednesday, when he delivers his State of the State speech, which likely will be quickly ignored by the legislature.
Wait ‘til next week
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, says he hopes the Senate can approve a gay marriage law on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.
Losses by Republicans in November mean higher pay for every GOP member of the Senate.
State lawmakers earn a base salary of $67,836, but can earn an extra stipend if they serve in a leadership post or are named as the ranking Republican on one of 21 Senate committees.
Since there are only 19 Republican senators, every one of them will receive a stipend of at least $10,000.
Freshman state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, will be busy. The former member of the Illinois House was named the minority spokesman on the Senate Higher Education Committee and one of two Senate appropriations committees.
Freshman state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, who also is moving over from the House, will be the ranking Republican on the State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.