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Legislature passes plan to make high schools cover athletes' catastrophic health insurance

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SPRINGFIELD-Illinois high-school athletes injured playing sports could soon get help from their schools to cover medical bills if Gov. Pat Quinn signs a bill sent to his desk Monday.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), passed the House Monday on a 71-39 vote, with one voting present, and would require the state's public and private high schools to carry insurance for their athletes with money funded by the schools.

"What we do here in this body is to try to put things in place to try to protect and to help our constituents whenever possible." Davis said. "And this bill is nothing more than trying to do that."

Under the measure, high schools would have to support policies that provide a minimum of $3 million in benefits or five years of coverage, whichever comes first, for catastrophic athletic injuries whose costs exceed $50,000. Davis estimated the plan would only cost school districts between $5-10 per student-athlete.

Still, opposition to the bill -mostly from Downstate Republicans - arose out of fear that many school districts wouldn't be able to shoulder the additional costs, which would be left to the district to decide how to fund.

"I'm telling you, our smaller school districts are going to do away with sports," Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill) contested.

"Ladies and gentleman, you've heard many of us say before, our school districts are waving the white flag. No more unfunded mandates...where is it going to stop? We do not have the businesses and the EAV's and the tax base to continue to absorb these."

The bill, which handedly passed the Senate last month, materialized in response to a football injury that left Blue Island High School running back Rasul "Rocky" Clark paralyzed from the neck down in 2000.

Clark was covered by the school district's $5 million insurance policy, but he died soon after the money dried up in early 2012.

"Rocky Clark, before or after he was injured, you know, he didn't just go somewhere and shrivel up and wither away and nobody heard from him," Davis said after nearly half an hour of debate. "He continued to try to coach, not only football but also track. His mother continued to be active. So he was a very special young man.

"And while he's no longer on this earth to see this type of legislation at least get to this point, certainly we appreciate him looking down on us, encouraging us to support this piece of legislation."

Quinn, who attended Clark's funeral wake, has said he supports the legislation.

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