County coroners, busy with issues most people prefer not to think about, aren't known for their astute analysis of the political scene. But Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup hit the nail on the head when he commented recently that, absent some emergency situation, "the coroner's office is the last office to be funded."
Northrup is trying to do something about that. But to be successful, he's got to get the attention of people not inclined to listen to him and his fellow coroners – state legislators.
Coroners in counties with trauma centers, like Champaign County, have long complained that they bear extraordinary costs for death investigations because individuals injured outside the county are brought here for treatment and often don't make it. Just for starters, an autopsy costs between $1,200 and $1,500, and that cost plus others can add up quickly for a small public office with a limited budget.
To help ease the budget strain caused by his office's high level of death investigations stemming from trauma deaths, Northrup is proposing that legislators approve a special assessment for individuals convicted of what he considers to be trauma-related crimes – like driving under the influence or violent crimes involving weapons.
Northrup is proposing an assessment that would go to a newly created Coroners Trauma Fund similar to the current $100 assessment that goes to the state's Trauma Center Fund. Whatever money is raised would be divided on a proportionate basis among Illinois' 102 counties based on the number of trauma cases each county handled during a year's time.
It's an idea worth discussing, but the reaction from Spingfield demonstrates the accuracy of Northrup's assessment about public fund priorities.
Legislators, who are limited in the number of bills they can introduce for the current year, say the earliest they could begin a review of Northrup's proposal is 2007.