The impact of a possible government shutdown

Officials concern about impact of possible government shutdown
February 29, 2008 4:22:28 PM PST
Several officials are weighing in on how a shutdown would impact Cook County departments, health facilities and the people they serve.The wheels are in motion to prevent a disruption of services.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans issued an administrative order late Friday afternoon that allows all court proceedings and court-related activities to operate beyond the budget deadline. Four hundred judges and 2500 circuit courd employees are covered by the order, which would take effect at midnight. Sheriff's deputies and employees are included.

"We want to assure citizens of this community that they can still bring their disputes to court. They should not resort to trying to settle disputes in the street," Evans said.

Additional efforts are being made to make sure all services will be provided, regardless of what happens with the county's budget.

Many of Cook County's sick rely on care from Stroger Hospital and the county's clinics. One million people receive service each year at the counties health care facilities. A possible shutdown in government could mean that all the clinics would close and non-elective surgeries would be canceled.

"It's a major concern. Our system takes care of a million patient visits...Citizens don't realize 84 percent of our population is uninsured, working people," said Dr. Bob Simon of the Cook County Bureau of Health Services.

Cook County Jail sees 300 detainees admitted daily and houses more than 9,000 men and women waiting for their due process. In the event of a government shutdown, deputies are expected to continue to work in the jail. A judge's order late Friday would allow the courts system to continue to operate.

But, earlier Friday, the clerk of the county circuit court had been concerned about a shutdown possibly violating citizens constitutional rights.

"I think we would have a problem in federal court," Clerk Dorothy Brown told ABC7 Chicago. "That's unconstitutional if people are not able to bail themselves out or to get their due process."

A lawsuit filed Friday afternoon requests that all county staff continue to be paid and services maintained in the event a budget is not passed. The suit is filed on behalf of board President Todd Stroger, State's Attorney Dick Devine and Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart. It is filed against Cook County's Board of Commissioners, the county's comptroller and treasurer.

"We cannot sit by and let Cook County just shut down," said Cook County 1st Asst. State's Attorney Bob Milan.

ABC7 Chicago has learned that Judge Mackey will hear the lawsuit Saturday at 10 a.m., If there is no budget agreement, it will be up to the judge Saturday to determine what happens to the county's services and staff.