Illinois lawmakers form school shootings task force

CHICAGO – A task force of Illinois lawmakers looking at ways to prevent school shootings by helping mentally ill children before they lash out violently met for the first time Monday.

During a meeting in which educators, police, mental health professionals and first lady Diana Rauner told of what needs to be done to prevent the kind of attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, lawmakers recognized the daunting task of funding such an effort while the state is in such dire financial straits.

“People need to realize that there is a price tag for everything we do in Springfield,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin after he left the meeting of the task force spearheaded by House Speaker Michael Madigan. “At the end of the day, we only have X amount of money to spend.”

But given tragedies such as the deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech University and Northern Illinois University, both Durkin and Rep. Greg Harris, the Chicago Democrat chairing the committee, agreed lawmakers must do something. The task force was formed after a report last year found there were many chances to help a gunman before he went on the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook.

“If we are serious about being sure that families and youth and schools have the tools they need to stop this from happening we are going to have to put our money where our mouth is,” said Harris after the meeting.

The scope of the job of helping children before they turn to violence and protecting children from that violence was provided by speaker after speaker who spoke of all the things that are needed: from more classroom doors that can be locked from the inside to prevent intruders to after school programs.

The first lady is president of a nonprofit Ounce of Prevention Fund, which last week criticized Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget over cuts to child assistance programs. Diana Rauner said Monday that prenatal and early childhood programs help parents “prevent mental illness and acts of violence in the future.”

But, she said, in a time when such programs have proven adept at identifying vulnerable children, they are far less successful at helping them because there aren’t enough therapists and other professionals to provide treatment.