Republicans announce effort to repeal criminal-justice reform law; Democrats call it ‘all for show’ | Courts-police-fire

Irina Baranova

SPRINGFIELD — Republicans are calling for their Democratic counterparts in the Illinois House to join them in efforts to repeal criminal-justice reforms in the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity Today Act.

GOP state Reps. Patrick Windhorst of Metropolis, Ryan Spain of Peoria and Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst joined House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs at a news conference Thursday to announce their support for legislation, House Bill 4499, introduced a week ago, to repeal the law.

Spain called the law “damaging and dangerous, with real consequences for the people of the state of Illinois.”

Democratic proponents of the law, who called the effort by superminority Republicans “all for show,” pointed out that many of the substantive changes created by the law had not yet taken effect.

That includes a measure that would eliminate cash bail in favor of a pretrial detention method that prioritizes aspects such as the level of danger a suspect poses rather than their ability to post bail. The exact parameters for pretrial detention will be determined by the courts. That measure takes effect in January 2023.

The original bill also changed use-of-force guidelines for law enforcement, created a new police-certification system and expanded detainee rights.

Spain said crime has skyrocketed in Illinois with increases in retail theft, carjacking and murders, citing 800 murders last year in Chicago.

“Illinois has become the wild, wild Midwest,” Durkin said.

Tweaks to the law, including a measure passed last year diluting some of the use-of-force language in the original, aren’t good enough, the Republicans said Thursday, and the law should be repealed entirely. Mazzochi said it would only take the support of a few Democrats to get it done.

“Repeal is a realistic solution. The original, underlying legislation passed with a bare minimum of 60 votes,” Mazzochi said. “It almost didn’t pass the first time.”

The bill, supported by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, passed on Jan. 13, 2021; the bill to repeal it was filed on that anniversary.

In a statement released after Thursday’s press conference, the Black Caucus countered that the law made the justice system fairer for minorities that its members continue to work with law-enforcement groups, including passing two follow-up measures.

“Many provisions of the SAFE-T Act have not even gone into effect yet, proving the Republican gambit is all for show,” the statement said, using the act’s acronym. “In fact, when fully implemented, experts say the SAFE-T Act will help improve public safety by supporting a more holistic approach for first responders.

“Instead of coming up with solutions to address crime; Republicans are just trying the same racial scare tactics we see across the country.”

Durkin and Windhorst, both former prosecutors, said the bill made the state more dangerous. Durkin said Democrats would have to answer to their constituents for the bill’s passage and Republicans would make public safety an issue in upcoming elections.

Earlier this month, an amendment passed to clarify issues related to detainee phone calls, pretrial services and moving back effective dates for the requirement of body cameras and police decertification. The House voted 67-42 to approve the Senate amendment.

Spain said the law will have half of the county sheriffs in Illinois leaving their posts and has left city and county police departments scrambling to recruit and retain officers after a wave of resignations in the wake of its passage.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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