Illinois House panel passes Poison Center bill

SPRINGFIELD – State lawmakers are pushing a plan to save the Illinois Poison Center from closing, using a creative funding mechanism during an expectedly tight budget year.

The Chicago-based call center, in place since 1953, is staffed by medical experts who handle roughly 80,000 calls a year from Illinois residents. Oftentimes, the center receives questions from parents, worried their children might have ingested something poisonous. While it relies on money from the state as well as contributions from hospitals, it has struggled with funding in recent years and announced it will close its doors June 30 unless it gets more financial help.

The proposal would direct a portion of the fee that cellphone companies charge to pay for 911 services to fund the poison control center. Lawmakers are facing an expected loss of $1.5 billion in revenue this year if the state's temporary tax increase expires as scheduled next January.

The bill passed a House committee Tuesday by a 19-1 vote and now moves to the chamber floor.

State Rep. Camille Lilly, a Democrat from Chicago, is sponsoring the House plan to fund center without using state tax dollars. Lilly said closing the center would have significant consequences.

"We do not want to be the only state in the country without this service," Lilly said.

She said the center takes a burden off other services such as ambulance calls and emergency rooms.

Opponents say that while the center offers an important service, this plan would put a pinch on 911 systems.

State Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican from Murphysboro, was the lone committee member to vote against the measure. He said 911 systems in downstate Illinois still need to be enhanced.

"We're not at the point where it works everywhere," Bost said.

An identical plan sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park, is up for consideration in the Senate. In a statement earlier this week, he said the state cannot let the Illinois Poison Center closes its doors.

"Swift, informed action can be the difference between life and death when a child swallows a potential poison," Harmon said.

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