Illinois Democratic lawmakers pass SAFE-T Act clean-up language

Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 9:59 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - After months of public debate and scrutiny over the pretrial fairness portion of the SAFE-T Act, Illinois Democratic lawmakers approved a new trailer bill for the massive criminal justice legislation. House Bill 1095 passed out of both chambers Thursday following intense debate from Republicans.

As Jan. 1 get closer, Senate Democrats want the public to know there won’t be a purge. Anyone charged on or after the new year will be entered into the pretrial fairness system. There will also be a tiered system for granting pretrial fairness hearings for people currently in jail. Judges will prioritize low-level non-violent offenders with cases heard within seven days. People detained and considered to be flight risks will get hearings within 60 days while criminals who could be dangerous to public safety would have hearings within 90 days.

“I know that I’ll say that this is my version of the Voting Rights Act. This is my version of Obamacare,” said Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago). “This is what I did in Springfield and changed the fortune for thousands of working-class Illinoisans.”

Pretrial release can be denied for anyone charged with a felony who poses a real and present threat to a person or the community based on specific facts of a case. Under the trailer bill, judges can deny pretrial release for anyone charged with forcible felonies such as treason, murder, sexual assault, robbery, home invasion, aggravated battery and arson.

Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) criticized Democrats for celebrating the SAFE-T Act in 2021 without thinking about all of the crimes people should be detained for. Barickman argued that Gov. JB Pritzker should have never signed the SAFE-T Act into law if the legislation put the public in danger.

“The actions of the sponsor in this legislation are no mere clarification,” Barickman said. “They’re substantive changes that are being made before of the harm putting the public at risk as a result of the SAFE-T Act in the first place.”

Sen. Jason Barickman speaks during debate on the SAFE-T Act trailer bill on Dec. 1, 2022.
Sen. Jason Barickman speaks during debate on the SAFE-T Act trailer bill on Dec. 1, 2022.(Mike Miletich)

Pretrial release will also be denied for people charged with reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, child abduction, and hate crimes among others. Republican lawmakers and many state attorneys argue that Democrats are eliminating cash bail too quickly. Lawsuits from 60 state’s attorneys were recently consolidated by the Illinois Supreme Court and referred to a judge in Kankakee County.

“Sixty state’s attorneys are still moving forward against this thing because you never opened up the door to an actual process that includes everybody,” said Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet). “And by the way, if you had done that two years ago, you could have saved yourselves all this two-year plan and done it right the first time.”

While Republicans voted against the plan, several noted that they appreciated the expanded detention net and heightened dangerousness standard for pretrial release.

“I appreciate that you brought law enforcement to the table on this issue,” said Sen. John Curran (R-Downers Grove). “I think that’s also a big improvement from two years ago. I think you also have further improvements to go and one of those is actually bringing the minority party into this process.”

Peters, Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) and Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) didn’t let Republicans get away with claiming they were willing to help improve the SAFE-T Act. Each of the sponsors noted that many Republicans called for a full repeal of the law.

“You didn’t like the process then. You don’t like the process now,” Sims said. “You won’t like the process tomorrow. When will you like the process? When will you participate?”

The proposal passed out of the Senate on a 38-17 vote. Senators Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake), Michael Hastings (D-Frankfurt), Emil Jones III (D-Chicago), and Dave Syverson (R-Cherry Valley) did not vote on the proposal.

Just hours later, House Republicans stressed that the new detention net is still flawed and judges won’t have enough power to keep dangerous criminals in jail. Some also argued that the bill is unconstitutional.

“The Constitution envisions a cash bail system under Article 1 Section 9,” said Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis). “We should let the court rule on that provision before we start doing anything with implementing this Act.”

Rep. Patrick Windhorst speaks during debate on a SAFE-T Act trailer bill on Dec. 1, 2022.
Rep. Patrick Windhorst speaks during debate on a SAFE-T Act trailer bill on Dec. 1, 2022.(Mike Miletich)

Still, sponsors said they are proud of the work done well before people started spreading misinformation through memes on social media and campaign mailers printed like newspapers. House Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) said sponsors negotiated changes that moved concerned stakeholders from opposition to neutral. The compromise included work with law enforcement, state attorneys, and advocates for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“You can stand in the gap for humanity,” Gordon-Booth said. “You can bring a more humane process to all of those that are involved in the system and you can support law enforcement at the same time.”

Lead sponsor Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) noted that stakeholders went through over a hundred hours of extensive robust negotiations. Slaughter said everyone at the table was focused on balancing both public safety and criminal justice reforms.

“It was indeed a process and we got there in regards to what we have here, dare I say a collaboration, but a product that does represent the wishes and the objectives of the advocacy on both ends of the public safety spectrum,” Slaughter said.

Many Republicans in the House and Senate were upset that burglary was not included in the longer list of detainable crimes. The Illinois State’s Attorney Association explained Thursday morning that they would like to see a trailer bill passed during the 2023 session to add burglary to the list of detainable crimes.

The legislation creates a new grant program to hire more public defenders across the state. Many smaller counties don’t have public defenders or have one person who is often overworked. The grant program will be administered and overseen by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts with appropriations from the General Assembly.

House Bill 1095 passed out of the House on a 71-40 vote. Representatives Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) and Curtis Tarver (D-Chicago) did not vote on the legislation. The proposal now heads to Pritzker’s desk for his signature of approval, and the governor is expected to sign the trailer bill into law as soon as possible to ensure the language can take effect by Jan. 1.

“For almost six months, working groups of legislators have been hard at work with victims’ advocates, state’s attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement partners, and others to clarify language in the SAFE-T Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1,” Pritzker said. “I’m pleased that the General Assembly has upheld the principles we fought to protect, including bringing an end to a system where those charged with violent offenses can buy their way out of jail, while others who are poor and charged with nonviolent offenses wait in jail for trial.”

House sponsors of the SAFE-T Act celebrate after passing a trailer bill securing pretrial...
House sponsors of the SAFE-T Act celebrate after passing a trailer bill securing pretrial fairness on Dec. 1, 2022.(Mike Miletich)

The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice celebrated the legislative victory Thursday night by thanking advocates who stood by the legislation while dark money groups sought to mislead the public with a multi-million dollar misinformation campaign “rooted in racism in outright lies.”

“After nearly two full years of intense struggle led by communities across Illinois, we have successfully defended the Pretrial Fairness Act from being rolled back or repealed,” the coalition stated. “On Jan. 1, 2023, Illinois will become the first state in the nation to completely eliminate the jailing of people who are awaiting trial simply because they’re poor—a practice that has devastated Black, brown, and poor communities across our state for decades.”

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