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Illinois concussion bill fails first vote

Updated: March 21, 2013 8:17AM

SPRINGFIELD ­— State lawmakers on Wednesday preliminarily voted against a bill that would limit youth football practices in Illinois to one day of full-contact tackle per week.

Six members of the house education committee opposed the bill introduced in January by state Rep. Carol Sente. Five supported the measure and two voted “present.”

If approved, the bill would limit high school and middle school football programs to only one full-contact practice per week in an effort to curb head injuries. Sente introduced the measure after constituent Lawrence Robbins, a neurologist, compiled research suggesting long-term injuries begin from repeated low-impact blows to the head, then approached her with the findings.

Sente gets one more attempt on Thursday before the bill dies. She said she’s committed to the topic and “will not drop the issue.”

“The arguments my colleagues posed were things I believe they heard from their local coaches,” Sente said. “I had an answer to everything. I plan to be more persuasive tomorrow.”

Sente said one opponent mentioned being fair and a need to wrap all sports practices into one comprehensive bill. Sente said she proposed taking small steps because a comprehensive bill would take too long and would still leave ideas out.

“The sooner we get started, the sooner we can save student athletes from these injuries,” Sente said. “I don’t want to take football away because I know it’s fun and coaches really do seem to be pretty conscientious, but we can always improve. We all want our children to wake up normally every day of their lives.”

Other opponents said football players need game-time speed to learn how to properly tackle. Sente said 20 states decided against full-contact summer practices, yet their children are still recruited to play college football.

If Sente gets a majority of the sitting education committee members to approve the bill Thursday, then the House would vote on the issue as early as next week.

If approved by the House, the bill would then go to the Senate education committee, followed by the Senate.

“It’s still a long road ahead,” Sente said.

Another failed vote tomorrow means the bill cannot be reintroduced until 2014. Sente said she plans to bring it back next year if the education committee rejects it.

Her firm stance was formed after gathering feedback from multiple groups, including at a town hall meeting in Vernon Hills last month. At that meeting, Robbins said a life-long football player would have experienced 8,000 blows to the head – most of which occurred at practice — by the time he graduates high school.

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