Illinois lawmakers approve first changes to massive criminal justice law

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Hundreds of bills passed through both chambers in Springfield during the last week of session. However, one of the plans that may have been overlooked will address some of the issues law enforcement had with the criminal justice law signed in February.

While most portions of the law aren’t changing, this trailer bill clarifies some of the things police found impractical to implement. Sponsors knew earlier this year that they would have to go back to the drawing board after Gov. JB Pritzker signed the SAFE-T Act into law. Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) and Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) wanted to work directly with law enforcement and those in the criminal justice field.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this bill has no opposition on it,” Slaugher explained on May 31. “A bill that reflects a lot of hard work to get these entities to either neutral or support.”

House Bill 3443 only addresses provisions of the SAFE-T Act that go into effect on July 1 of this year. The language covers restrictions on use of force, chokeholds, crowd control, and law enforcement misconduct. It also touches upon issues with training requirements and body camera implementation for every officer in Illinois by 2025.

“To me, this is making a bad law more implementable,” said Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association. “But, it doesn’t change the basic undertones of the tenets from which the original law was established which are still problematic for us.”

Kaitschuk says he’s glad lawmakers were willing to work on this measure and several other trailer bills down the road. Still, he feels Democrats should’ve been proactive during negotiations on the initial law instead of reaction to challenges they face now.

Some Democrats say this bill diminished the monumental law from the Legislative Black Caucus.

“I don’t have enough time to ask the many questions that are respective to this bill,” said Rep. Curtis Tarver II (D-Chicago). “It’s a watered down bill, it’s disrespectful to the pillar in the first place.”

Good officers leaving

Kaitschuk argues these changes to the SAFE-T Act can’t solve the issue of good officers leaving the profession. He feels constant attacks on police won’t encourage people to stay or go into law enforcement.

“I have had five sheriffs that have already resigned since the original bill passed. There will be six more that will resign before the end of this year,” Kaitschuk noted. “On top of that, there’s another 22 more that will not be running again almost entirely because of the SAFE-T Act.”

Kaitschuk says that doesn’t take into account deputies, officers, or correctional officers who choose to leave the profession as well.

Still, sponsors stress this bill does not change the intent of the initial law – creating safer communities.

“I remain committed to transforming the criminal justice system in Illinois in such a way that will uplift our communities while supporting our law enforcement,” said Sims. “House Bill 3443 moves us another step forward in our efforts to reimagine public safety and I look forward to continuing my work on this issue.”

While law enforcement groups are happy with some of the changes, they fear the overall package of reforms will still work against officers. Under this bill, police wouldn’t be able to access their body camera video from a scene before they write the initial report about an incident.

“If you’re involved in deadly force or an officer-involved shooting or a witness to those situations, even if I’m not the officer that did it, I still am precluded from being able to view my body cam footage until after I’ve written a report. I don’t understand the need for that,” Kaitschuk said.

He explained officers want to make sure the information they report is truthful and accurate. Kaitschuk feels this provision could lead to questioning credibility when officers take the stand.

More trailer bills on the way

Slaughter explained the bill makes no changes to the anonymous complaint portion of the law. Republicans also wanted to clarify this legislation didn’t make significant changes to the pretrial fairness provision ending cash bail.

“There’s just one piece that extends the provision that gives clerks and police the authority to continue collecting bonds to January 1, 2023,” Slaughter said.

Sponsors initially hoped to have that portion take effect on July 1, 2021.

Senators approved the proposal on a partisan 42-17 vote. The plan passed out of the House on a 79-36 vote following an intense debate. Rep. Sonya Harper filed a procedural motion to reconsider the vote after representatives left early in the morning on May 31. However, she later withdrew that motion on June 2.

The legislation now heads to the governor’s desk for final consideration.

The post Illinois lawmakers approve first changes to massive criminal justice law appeared first on WEEK.

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