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Hope For The Illinois State Museum? Legislation Once Again Puts Museum Fate In Governor's Hands

Lisa Ryan
Credit Lisa Ryan

A month and a half after the Illinois State Museum shut its doors to visitors, lawmakers Tuesday passed a measure that could lead to its reopening.

The Illinois State Museum and its affiliated sites shut their doors to visitors at the end of September. Advocates have mourned the loss of the Springfield-based museum, which also hosts researchers and preserves millions of artifacts, from mastodon skeletons to Native American relics.

The legislation on its way to Gov. Bruce Rauner says state government must have, and open to the public, an official state museum in Springfield.

But it was Rauner who closed the museum in the first place, citing necessity born of the budget impasse. Rauner's office says the measure's under review. However, it is telling that it received Republican support. And it passed with more than enough votes to override a potential veto.

Chairman of the state museum board Guerry Suggs says if does work, and the measure becomes law "I don't think that will reopen the museum today. But it certainly will help the museum in the future, and I think it will help the museum from being closed again, when you get into what we're ... this is obviously a legislative fight between the Democrats and the Republicans when it comes to the budget."

Though the museum's closed to visitors, the majority of its staff are still on the state payroll, while their union battles Rauner in court, which Suggs says makes no sense to him.

Suggs says some employees have quit, taken new jobs, or retired.

"It's been very devastating to the museum to be closed, for as long as we are closed," he says. "And the longer we're closed the more devastating it will be. Because I know of union employees who are looking for other jobs because they're concerned that their future at the museum is not going to be secure."

He says the museum could open again right away, if it were allowed.

The legislation provides no specific source of funding for the museum; admission has always been free.

Rauner, a Republican, has said he "loves" the state museum but was forced to close it as he tries to manage state spending.

As was the case before the shutdown, it also requires Illinois to operate branch sites at Chicago, Dickson Mounds, Lockport and Rend Lake.

NOTE: Suggs is a significant donor to WUIS public radio.

Copyright 2015 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Amanda Vinicky
Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.