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Republicans urge Pritzker to veto criminal justice bill, Democrats fight back

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Republicans and police supporters across Illinois are demanding Gov. JB Pritzker veto the massive criminal justice plan that Democrats passed during lame-duck session. Many argue Democrats rushed the plan following months of committee hearings without the bill’s language hashed out.

House Republicans opposed the Black Caucus reform bill before it reached their desks, but now it’s out of their control. They hope Pritzker will send the proposal back to the drawing board.

Ending cash bail

Many conservatives are concerned about eliminating cash bail by 2023, even though Democrats spent years working toward the plan.

“We have significant concerns that criminals who commit acts of violence and other dangerous crimes such as robbery, burglary, and arson will be right back on the streets within days able to victimize more people. This is not acceptable,” said Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis).

Black Caucus members leading the charge for reform say that argument is moot. They stress that anyone considered dangerous to the community would never walk free.

“What deters people from crime isn’t more harsh sentences,” explained Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago). “What deters people from crime is basically whether or not the punishment will be certain and the punishment will be swift when it is eased out.”

Unfunded mandates

Law enforcement groups worry about the limitations on use-of-force and requiring every officer to wear body cameras by 2025. Many say lawmakers shouldn’t force departments to make the changes without additional funding from the state.

“Police reform is not a bad thing when it’s done correctly,” said Joe Moon, President of Illinois State Troopers Lodge 41. “The 700-plus pages of this bill, unfortunately, will put citizens in Illinois at risk.”

Still, Sims says this plan included every suggestion from the coalition of law enforcement involved in the process. He describes HB 3653 as a good officer protection plan.

“It allows officers to be able to do their job effectively and invests in training. It also invests in officer wellness,” Sims added. “Investing in all of those things will help those officers who want to do the job well.”

Moon mentioned law enforcement worked with Attorney General Kwame Raoul on the proposal for decertification and licensing of officers. However, Moon said they never expected lawmakers to quickly ram that proposal with the massive criminal justice package. Lodge members already started calling the office with concerns about continuing as troopers. Some close to retirement told Moon they don’t want to continue working without the support from Illinois.

“I’ve had new troopers reach out to me and say if this bill passes they will have to seriously consider, for their safety and the safety of their family, continuing to do this job. So, there are severe repercussions if this bill passes,” Moon said.

Read the bill

Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin wants Pritzker to thoroughly read the bill. He also suggested the Chicago Democrat should talk with someone who understands the legal system before approving the plan.

“I will offer up my time to go through the bill line-by-line with the governor to not only give him the legal analysis, but also the consequences of what would happen if this bill were to go into law,” Durkin said.

The Western Springs native says lawmakers only saw bullet points and general information about the reforms before the bill arrived on January 12. Durkin emphasized words matter, especially when it comes to a law that judges and attorneys would interpret daily.

“While we can decry the process of this bill, which was a failure, the real tragedy is the failure of the bill’s substance,” Durkin said.

Ample opportunities

Sims claims Republicans overlooked many details in the plan. He stressed sponsors went to great lengths to include suggestions from various groups who spoke with lawmakers during public committee hearings. Sims said Republicans had many opportunities to bring their own ideas to the table.

“Members of the House Republican caucus are on a task force that I serve on that was sanctioned by the Illinois Supreme Court. We vetted the language for the Pretrial Fairness Act,” Sims said. “To say that this is somehow no time to vet these ideas or no time to review these things, it’s just not accurate.”

Yet, Windhorst said Democrats never allowed time for members of both chambers to review the actual bill language.

“This over-700 page bill was passed in the Senate at 4 in the morning after being filed just an hour earlier. It was voted on in the House that same morning,” Windhorst said. “While committees had subject matter hearings leading up to the vote, the actual language of the bill was changed up until 3 a.m. the day the bill passed.”

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Mike Miletich

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