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.


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State Sen. Kwame Raoul new 'it guy' in Springfield

Chicago Tribune

For more than a year after he was appointed to fill then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's seat in the Illinois Senate, Kwame Raoul did all he could to avoid contact with his predecessor.
He would not call Obama for advice unless he absolutely had to. He skipped public appearances where the two might run into each other or, worse, be photographed together.
"I had a sense early on that people, probably including Barack, were concerned about whether I was trying to coattail on his success," Raoul said. "And I was really sensitive about that."
Nearly seven years later, Raoul finds himself the new "it guy" in Springfield. He has led high-profile Democratic pushes to ban the death penalty, reform pensions, overhaul the state's workers' compensation system and redraw legislative boundaries.
Even some Republicans want a piece of him. House Republican Leader Tom Cross appeared with Raoul last month to promote legislation that would require schools to adopt policies regarding concussions and head injuries for athletes.
"People think I am crazy," said Raoul of his workload, which he says sent him to the hospital twice in the last year with stress-related heart arrhythmia. "I don't want to just be down there saying, 'I'm a senator.'"
The 46-year-old son of Haitian immigrants first became interested in politics while an undergrad at DePaul University during the Council Wars in the 1980s. After Mayor Harold Washington's unexpected death, Raoul joined thousands of protesters outside City Hall as aldermen held a tumultuous meeting that eventually saw Eugene Sawyer chosen as mayor.
Raoul, who wanted then-Ald. Timothy Evans as mayor, wound up being hours late for his job as a bill collector so he could pass out "No Deals" signs at the rally.
"I subsequently got fired from a job I wasn't very good at and didn't like, but I remember going home and watching the council proceedings and thinking, 'Wow, we've got to do better than this.'"
Raoul twice ran and lost for alderman against Toni Preckwinkle, who's now the Cook County Board president. She eventually became an ally and backed him for Obama's state Senate seat in 2004 — against Obama's wishes at the time.
Raoul has a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law and a year ago went to work in the Chicago office of Michigan-based Miller Canfield. The firm, which also employs Paul Durbin, son of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is serving as an underwriters' counsel on a $3.5 billion bond sale the state issued in January 2010.
Raoul said he's never made any calls to help the firm secure state business and voted present Wednesday on a bill that would provide tax credits for Continental Tire, which he said the firm represents. The bill passed.
"I try to be careful and make sure the firm isn't doing anything that could get me in trouble," said Raoul, who added that he is learning about municipal financing so he can help towns and cities with bond deals.
Raoul's signature achievement was pushing through a death penalty ban that few expected to pass.
"I was very surprised when he told me he had enough votes," said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. "And that's because it was a very individual, personal type of vote. Those type of bills come along once in a career."
For now, Raoul said he plans to run for his Senate seat next year.
"There's a lot of room out there to serve. I don't want to be one of those people that is trying to hold on to power beyond my time," said Raoul, who added he's not worried if he loses. "For me there's enough stress, there's enough time away from my kids and family."