Vote on SAFE-T Act amendments hit needed majorities wins General Assembly passage
Following months of conversations between lawmakers, advocates, and law enforcement, the Illinois General Assembly moved forward with amendments to the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act.
Thursday marked the last day of the veto session and, with it, the last day to make changes to the Pretrial Fairness Act provision of the SAFE-T Act, which ends cash bail in Illinois effective Jan. 1, 2023.
State Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, introduced two amendments to House Bill 1095 earlier this week with changes focusing mostly on the dangerousness and willful flight standards, adding extra non-probational offenses, and other clarifications.
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"This is my version of the Voting Rights Act, this is my version of Obamacare," said Peters on Thursday, his legislation passing in the Senate 38-17 before heading to the House where it passed 71-40.
The bill heads to the desk of Gov. JB Pritzker, who thanked legislators for their work over the c last six months in making needed modifications to the SAFE-T Act.
"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 while others who are poor and charged with nonviolent offenses wait in jail for trial," Pritzker said in a statement.
Following the Senate vote, Peters said "this is what I did in Springfield and changed the fortunes of thousands of working-class Illinoisans."
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, added since the inception of the PFA, the goal has been to "overhaul a broken criminal justice system" that favored those with the financial resources to afford bail.
“The measure we passed today preserves that goal while providing clarifications to eliminate any misunderstandings and ensure the implementation of this groundbreaking reform is smooth,” Harmon said in a statement.
In the House, the bill passed with the minimum of votes to reach the 60% majority necessary to go into effect immediately. Democrats Reps. Curtis Tarver of Chicago and Sam Yingling of Grayslake did not cast votes, while Springfield Republican Reps. Tim Butler and Sandy Hamilton were among the no votes.
With unlimited debate requested by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, the House debated HB 1095 for about 90 minutes, hearing from legislators in favor and opposed to the amendments.
State Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, spoke to the bill and engaged in a spirited debate with Durkin and other Republicans. There, he was asked questions about the trailer bill’s process, changes to the body camera requirement for police departments, and more.
Co-sponsors of the bill however hailed the amendments as needed and sealed the deal to prepare for the end of cash bail next month.
"We are now at a point where we have a bill where both the proponents, advocates, and law enforcement are all neutral on the bill," said state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, during House debate.
Legislative action on the matter started in a Senate executive committee hearing, which passed 11-6 after questioning primarily by state Sens. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, and Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.
McClure, an opponent of the original bill passed in 2021 and subsequent trailer bills, admitted there were changes that he supported in Peters' bill. Still, he took issue with what he described as shortcomings in the bill regarding burglary charges and lacking sufficient staffing to implement the act.
"There is a long way to go to protect victims in our state," he said. "Unfortunately, again, this bill falls short."
Past Coverage:Advocates and opponents of Pretrial Fairness Act in Illinois spar in local town hall
McClure and Barickman also claimed there would be a lack of transparency in what information the public and press can receive from arrest reports and criminal records. Peters and Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, however, contended that this would not be an issue.
With the changes being implemented in January, the Springfield senator said law enforcement shortages and the upcoming holidays will present difficulties in its implementation.
A more realistic timeline, McClure said, would be six months from now based on his conversations with local law enforcement.
“A lot of questions they have about contradictions have yet to been answered by the (Illinois) Supreme Court or by anybody else,” he said following the conclusion of the committee hearing. “That is going to be troubling with how that rolls out.”
Electronic monitoring was another issue mentioned by McClure both during committee and on the Senate floor. As he understood it, individuals would not be limited as to where they could go while possibly earning custodial credit for time served under GPS or electronic monitoring.
Outside of Cook County, he projected that very few and possibly no counties had the resources for GPS monitoring. Staffing shortages make monitoring even more of a challenge, McClure argued.
“I have never heard of it,” he said later during the Senate debate. “It’s ridiculous. The idea that I would vote for that means I think Sen. Bennett hasn’t been paying attention to any of my speeches.”
State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, addressed the floor after several Republicans had listed their complaints—complaints he felt were mostly misplaced.
Bennett was the first legislator to introduce amending legislation to the SAFE-T Act prior to veto session and, while it was opposed by advocates groups, he noted the Republicans did not introduce any trailer bills.
“It is interesting how many critics of the trailer bill process have a pretty weak record of legislative accomplishment in this body,” added Bennett.
Republicans also pointed to the number of times the bill has already been amended, but Democrats maintained that this is regularly the case in the legislative process.”
“That isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength,” contended Bennett.
What are the major changes?
Advocates and proponents of the PFA have agreed that changes to the bill were necessary, yet not all were on board with what was presented.
Republicans were concerned with whether or not police could detain an individual for trespassing. Peters' trailer bill clarified that law enforcement could detain trespassers -- the same as prior versions of the bill.
The dangerousness standard was also updated. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois had called for uniformity in the language which now allows judges to withhold pretrial release if a defendant "poses a real and present threat to any person or persons or the community."
The willful flight standard also gives judges a way to deny pretrial release, a standard updated to apply to suspects actively trying to evade prosecution.
States attorneys lawsuit
Less than one week after the veto session ends, a consolidated lawsuit from 62 states attorneys questioning the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act will be heard in Kankakee County.
Coming Soon:SAFE-T Act lawsuit filed by state's attorneys has court date in Kankakee County
Sangamon County States Attorney Dan Wright and county Sheriff Jack Campbell were among those suing the state.
Contact Patrick Keck: 312-549-9340, email@example.com, twitter.com/@pkeckreporter.
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Illinois lawmakers consider SAFE-T Act changes as veto session winds down