The jobs of 124 state prison nurses at risk of being outsourced by the Rauner administration would be protected under a bipartisan plan that was approved by the Illinois Senate Wednesday.

Senate Bill 19 would halt further privatization of health care and mental health services by the Illinois Department of Corrections. The legislation was approved 40-15.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed laying off 124 unionized nurses employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections at 12 prisons around the state and outsourcing their positions with Wexford Health Sources, a Pennsylvania company that provides health care services nationwide.

Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the original sponsor of the legislation, said it’s a matter of human dignity.

“I don’t think the people of this state would embrace a policy that would have someone look 124 nurses in the eyes and say we’re going to lay you off but we want to hire you back for the very same job for a lesser wage,” Manar said. “That is not a policy this Senate should embrace, and it is not a policy that I believe the people of Illinois embrace.”

Senator Sam McCann (R-Plainview) became chief sponsor of the legislation on Wednesday.

Wexford currently has a 10-year, $1.4 billion contract to provide medical services in all Illinois prisons.

In 2015, a scathing report blasted sweeping problems with the quality of medical care offered to Illinois inmates by Wexford and cited numerous examples of neglect or insufficient treatment. The report, filed in federal court as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit, alleged problems ranging from unqualified and incompetent doctors and nurses to improper record-keeping and sanitation.

In all, Senate Bill 19 would protect 322 state employees who provide such services for the Illinois Department of Corrections, including 150 nurses who are members of the Illinois Nurses Association and 172 medical technicians and mental health professionals who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

A similar plan sponsored by Manar during the last legislative session was vetoed by the governor. The House was unable to override the veto.

The legislation goes to the House for consideration. Rep. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) was listed as the chief House sponsor on Wednesday.

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