Southern Illinois lawmakers fight to reopen Hardin County work camp

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation Friday that would have reopened the Hardin County Work Camp and ensured its continued operation. Lawmakers and advocates of the legislation joined together Saturday to discuss the ramifications and impact this will have on the region and surrounding communities.
 
The measure, House Bill 4326, would have required the Illinois Department of Corrections to operate the Hardin County Work Camp.
 
State Senator Gary Forby (D-Benton), who carried the legislation in the Senate, said the governor’s action on this measure was unbelievable.
 
"Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I shocked? No," Forby said. "This governor doesn’t give a lick about Southern Illinois. He’s just another snake oil salesman from Chicago. Closing down state facilities in parts of the state that truly need an economic boost just doesn’t make sense. This bill received bipartisan support because lawmakers on both sides of the aisle understand the importance of the work being done at the camp and the economic impact to the surrounding communities. The only explanation I can come up with is, he’s just a terrible governor."
 
The veto strikes a devastating blow to Hardin County and surrounding communities. With over 60 employees shipped to other parts of the state, local businesses will be hit hardest by the economic ripple effect.
 
"I was shocked that Governor Bruce Rauner single-handedly closed the Hardin County Work Camp, after Democratic and Republican lawmakers urged him to keep the facility open," said State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) who carried the legislation in the house.
 
"Working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I sponsored and passed legislation to reopen the facility. By vetoing the bill, our billionaire governor from Chicago once again demonstrated he doesn’t care about communities in Southern Illinois and showed everybody how much is at stake in the November election and in 2018 when he is on the ballot again. Southern Illinoisans will not forget," Phelps added. 
 
Last year the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) held a hearing to discuss the economic impact of closing several state facilities. The panel voted in favor of keeping Hardin County Work Camp open. Rauner stood steadfast in his decision to keep the facility closed.
 
"At the root of all of Governor Rauner’s actions is money," said state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion. "Unlike a lot of people I know who built their businesses and created jobs, Rauner made himself a billionaire by destroying companies and the lives of the people who worked at them. Rauner used his money to buy himself a governorship, and now he’s trying to gain unchecked power by purchasing legislative lapdogs who will fetch, roll over and heel at his command. He knows they won’t bark or bite when he attacks Southern Illinoisans as he did yesterday and has every day since he took office."  
 
"Rauner’s veto was a result of his obsession with annihilating organized labor and hurting union members, like those who worked at the Hardin Camp," Bradley continued. "Rauner hates unions because they fight for fair wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions for everyone, and in the private sector they demand that workers receive a fair share of the profits, which means less money for people like Rauner. Before he became governor, the investment firm at which Rauner made his fortune and from which he still receives income, owned companies that make money from privatizing prisons and probation. Rauner may well be trying to dismantle and privatize our criminal justice system to financially benefit himself, his former business partners, and the wealthy individuals who fund his political activities."
 
The facility closed in January 2016, and local legislators have fought hard to reopen the facility. Inmates who were housed at the facility were known to help local governments during natural disasters by sandbagging, thereby saving the surrounding counties millions of dollars, and provided over 6,500 community services hours per month when it was open.
 
"This is disgraceful. This used to be a work camp, a place that employed people," said Colby Potts, a member of AFSCME Council 31 and former employee at the work camp. "Those jobs that were here are gone. I’m a republican and I want to ask republicans to stand up. Enough is enough. Stand for your principles. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s about what’s right for the people of Southern Illinois."
 
Opened in 1980, the Work Camp has served the surrounding communities for over 30 years with millions of hours of community service being provided by inmates to the counties of Hardin, Saline and Gallatin.

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