Legislation aims to protect students - on and off the field - from the lasting effects of brain injury

SPRINGFIELD - State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) and advocates — from a pediatric sports medicine expert to the son of a Super Bowl winner whose brain injury cost him his quality of life — testified today in a Senate committee that approved tough new protections for students who suffer concussions.

"As a parent of two children who have suffered concussions, I understand that brains take time to heal," Raoul said. "With emergency plans in place and an awareness of the accommodations needed for youth who sustain concussions, schools can help their students reach their full potential and avoid debilitating brain injuries."

Tregg Duerson testified to committee members about his father, Dave Duerson, whose professional football career spanned eleven seasons and included a Super Bowl win with the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears. After retiring from the NFL, the elder Duerson began experiencing headaches, dizzy spells, memory loss, depression and flashes of anger and irritability. He believed he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease brought on by repeated blows to the head, and before taking his life in 2011, he asked his family to donate his brain to Boston University researchers who could test for CTE. The autopsy confirmed his self-diagnosis, and at least 20 other deceased professional football players have been found to have suffered from the disease.

Raoul and Duerson cropped web"My father and his peers played football at the highest level at a time when concussions were mismanaged," the younger Duerson said. "Awareness is now at an all-time high, and now is the time for our generation to get it right. My hope is that we don't see CTE developing in today's young players, because we get it right and manage their head injuries appropriately."

"Concussion is often an 'invisible injury'; most people who have a concussion don't lose consciousness, and symptoms can manifest themselves up to 24 hours later," said Dr. Cynthia LaBella, medical director of the Institute of Sports Medicine at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital and an expert in pediatric concussions. "It's important for a child who has had a concussion to take a cognitive rest, with accommodations such as attending school part-time, giving extra time to complete assignments and limiting time spent reading or looking at an electronic device. We know now that it takes even longer for younger children to recover from concussions than older youth, so expanding state law to cover elementary and middle school students, not just high school students, is key."

Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Raoul and co-sponsored by Senators Dan Kotowski and Ira Silverstein, expands current requirements so that all children participating in school-sponsored athletic activities are protected – at the elementary, middle and high school levels and at public, private and charter schools. These requirements include having emergency plans in place to deal with severe injuries that arise during sporting events, designating a "concussion oversight team" of health care professionals to develop and implement concussion policies and following Illinois High School Association protocols for taking student athletes out of a practice or game and allowing them to return after a concussion. The IHSA supports the legislation.

For the first time, the measure also requires schools to have "return-to-learn" policies in place so students who have suffered concussions – at a school-sponsored athletic event or anywhere else — can ease back into classroom attendance and academic work. The sponsors and supporters emphasized that a gradual return to both physical and cognitive activity is necessary to allow the brain to heal. Dr. LaBella testified that sustaining a second concussion before fully recovering from a first increases a person's likelihood of developing long-term complications.

"For many of our young people, playing a sport is a powerful opportunity for achievement, personal growth, fitness and teamwork," Raoul said. "We want to ensure the door of opportunity stays open for youth to continue playing but also to succeed in the classroom and lead long, healthy lives."

Now that the Senate Education Committee has recommended the legislation, it will go to the full Senate for a vote.


0001raoul-resizedI am looking forward to working with the Illinois Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to fix a broken system that is supposed to make Illinois safer but instead has produced overcrowded prisons, soaring costs and a large population cycling in and out of prison rather than getting the resources they need to leave crime behind.

Gov. Rauner has asked me to help lead this effort, and I'm honored to be working with an extremely knowledgeable and committed group to seize this bipartisan moment for change. A column I co-authored with the governor appeared in today's Sun Times:



In Springfield, we know there are going to be some tough fights ahead, but we believe the time is right for Illinois Democrats and Republicans to put aside partisan disagreements and fix our broken criminal justice system.

Nationally, leaders from the right and left, from Newt Gingrich to President Obama, agree that the U.S. needs to reduce the country's costly overreliance on incarceration.

Since the 1970s, the rate of incarceration in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Our country has only 5 percent of the planet's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners held in the largest prison system the world has ever seen. This amounts to almost 2.3 million people incarcerated at an annual cost of more than $80 billion.

While Red and Blue states like Texas and New York have begun to take action by passing safe and effective criminal justice reforms, Illinois has lagged behind. As a result, our prison system has devolved into one of the most crowded in the country.

Read more here.



February 18, 2015


SPRINGFIELD — State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) issued the following statement in response to today's budget address:

Like the governor, I support a balanced budget that allows Illinois to become compassionate and competitive. But as co-chair of the conference committee that took on pension reform in 2013, I understood that we had embarked on a long road fraught with legal challenges and careful negotiations. It's a road we need to continue walking, in order to achieve constitutional, responsible pension reform and sustain funding for core state services; however, I have serious doubts about the governor's claim that we can save $2.2 billion this year by addressing pension liabilities.

I view this budget proposal as a starting point, and I look forward to working with the governor to accomplish pension reform the right way and while also maintaining access to health care, mental health services and other essential forms of assistance to those in greatest need.

The budget negotiations will not be easy, and they will likely be contentious. But today, we also find ourselves at a significant bipartisan moment – an opportunity to work together to finally reform our criminal justice system. Republicans and Democrats alike agree that warehousing criminals, without preparing them to rejoin society, is neither humane nor prudent. We agree that our sentencing laws are outmoded and aren't making our neighborhoods safer. We agree that too many Illinoisans – particularly young African-American males – have been left sitting in prison, at great cost to taxpayers, instead of getting the help they need to leave crime behind. As chair of the Senate's Restorative Justice Committee and a member of the governor's criminal justice reform task force, I look forward to working with the Rauner administration to accomplish these goals and make Illinois a safer, more compassionate and more productive state – one that invests in people, not prisons.


Budget address web

The day before the governor's budget address, I joined the crew of The Afternoon Shift on WBEZ to preview the state budget and discuss some of the challenges we face, including new concerns about pension reform.


State of the State react webI’ve been in the business of improving Illinois for many years now. We’ve abolished the death penalty, overhauled workers’ compensation, protected voting rights and expanded minority participation in state contracts. I welcome Gov. Rauner to the effort. I’m ready to work with anyone who comes to the table with reasonable ideas and a willingness to compromise.

I do want to see more specifics and a detailed blueprint of where the governor is proposing to lead us and how he plans to get there. The time for bashing Illinois and focusing on past problems is over; it's time to govern this great state and start shaping its future.

Gov. Rauner has reached out to me for input on our next steps in criminal justice reform, and I'm confident that this is an area where we can find common ground. I'm very pleased with initial indications of the Rauner administration's direction on this issue – both his statements today and the individuals he has chosen to advise him. I look forward to working with the governor on a more just, humane and fiscally responsible approach to public safety.