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Illinois House Republicans push unlikely repeal of SAFE-T Act

Illinois House Republicans have filed legislation to repeal the massive criminal justice reform...
Illinois House Republicans have filed legislation to repeal the massive criminal justice reform law known as the SAFE-T Act.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:54 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Statehouse Republicans have filed legislation to repeal the massive criminal justice reform law known as the SAFE-T Act. They argued the law led to the recent rise in violence, unsafe communities, and more law enforcement retiring.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned about the rise in crime in Illinois, but Republicans are trying to eliminate the criminal justice plan Democrats passed on Jan. 13, 2021.

Some House and Senate Democrats introduced anti-crime proposals in the first weeks of session. However, none have argued the SAFE-T Act should be repealed. Instead, House Republicans said those Democrats have buyer’s remorse and could join their effort to “make the state safer.”

GOP members argue Illinois Democrats defunded and demoralized police by passing and signing the SAFE-T Act into law.

“It’s interesting that those who did support this bill, who were all high-fiving and hugging each other last January, are now rolling up their sleeves and saying, ‘We gotta get to the bottom of the crime epidemic.’ Well, they’re a little late,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). “They are late.”

Durkin said Democratic members can’t be trusted to address the crime issue. However, Legislative Black Caucus leaders said they worked directly with community organizations, legal rights advocates, and law enforcement to make the justice system more effective and just.

Most provisions in the SAFE-T Act, including the elimination of cash bail, haven’t taken effect yet. Republican lawmakers and those looking to win statewide office are making violence a vital issue in their 2022 campaigns.

ILBC Joint Chair Sonya Harper, House Chair Kam Buckner, and Senate Chair Robert Peters said Illinois Republicans are using the same scare tactics seen across the country. Still, the Chicago Democrats stated they trust the public won’t fall for the GOP tactics.

“As usual with the Republican Party, any effort to make the justice system fairer for Black people is called ‘dangerous,’” the ILBC leaders stated. “We are improving public safety, supporting law enforcement, and ending systemic injustice at the same time.”

House GOP members recalled Thursday that they warned Democrats last year about an uptick in violent crimes and murders if the criminal justice plan passed. Still, significant portions of the law focus on police reforms like the use of force, misconduct records, and whistleblower protections. Other sections cover the review process for certifying and de-certifying police officers.

“Part of funding the police means staffing police departments,” said Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria). “The crisis that has been created in law enforcement because of this bill has made it very difficult to hire police officers in Chicago, in the suburbs, in downstate Illinois.”

Yet, many of the frequent talking points about the skyrocketing crime center around eliminating cash bail. The “Pretrial Fairness Act” doesn’t take effect until 2023. House Lead Sponsor Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) said Republicans need to stop the divisive rhetoric about the law.

“A lot, if not all, of the SAFE-T Act is steeped in strong research and is evidence-based,” Slaughter said in an interview Thursday. “That’s what we relied on, and that’s what we leaned on.”

Slaughter also said it’s important not to turn back the clock on criminal justice reform. He feels the Republican’s approach to “lock ‘em up and toss away the key” hurts communities of color. He nicknamed the GOP effort the “Dangerous Act.”

While some Democrats were hesitant to support the SAFE-T Act, it’s doubtful enough Democrats would join Republicans to repeal this law.

“It’s not going to be repealed,” Slaughter said. “As long as I’m chairing the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee, the Dangerous Act will not see the light of day. I will tell you that.”

Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) still believes repealing the SAFE-T Act is a realistic solution since the legislation passed with the bare minimum amount of votes needed. Mazzochi claims the representative overseeing the chamber left the vote open for an extraordinary amount of time to allow Democratic members to “intimidate” other caucus members to support it.

“This is the time that Democrats need to have a little courage, stand up for their district residents,” Mazzochi said. “They need to say, ‘I’m going to vote to repeal.’”

Mazzochi also noted that several Republicans have introduced plenty of other strong criminal justice reforms. But, she said Democrats, specifically Slaughter, never allowed them to be discussed during hearings.

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