From State Senator Don DeWitte:
More than Ducks Crippled in Past Legislative Session
Last week, the Democrat-majority in Springfield ram-rodded some of the most progressive and restrictive legislation that overhauls law enforcement and our criminal justice system during the Lame Duck session—a time in which lawmakers, who haven’t been re-elected, are able to make tough votes on legislation.
Under the cloak of darkness at 4 a.m. on the final day of the 101st General Assembly, the Democrat-majority in the Senate snuck in nearly 800 pages of amendments to House Bill 3653 and called for legislators to vote on it an hour later.
The measure passed both chambers
- without a committee hearing,
- without public input, and
- certainly without enough time for anyone to read it.
All of this was done under the guise of eliminating the stigma of systemic racism within law enforcement agencies and court systems throughout the state.
If this significant legislation had gone through the open and bipartisan committee review process and allowed for greater discourse between both sides of the aisle, it could have been made better, and potentially garnered Republican support.
Instead, the measure squeaked by with a zero-vote margin in the House.
Not only was the process of passing this legislation outrageous and undemocratic, but the reforms found in House Bill 3653 are equally concerning.
- eliminates cash bail completely by 2023, allows
- the filing of anonymous complaints without so much as a signature against police officers, and
- forces multiple unfunded mandates that will essentially act as a backdoor “defund the police” effort.
The complete elimination of cash bail will unnecessarily handcuff our judicial system.
No other state in the country has moved to completely eliminate the practice because at times it is an appropriate measure to ensure that dangerous individuals are not put back on the streets.
The state of New York passed a revamping of their bail system in 2019.
By the spring of 2020, the state’s legislature rolled back some of the reforms after a significant spike in crime.
If the elimination of cash bail didn’t make this legislation controversial enough, the bill also removed the requirement of sworn affidavits for police misconduct complaints and instead, allows for the filing of anonymous complaints.
The law enforcement organizations that testified against this bill were afraid that this change could result in officers hesitating to perform their duties out of fear of anonymous complaints.
Lastly, House Bill 3653 creates multiple unfunded mandates, including extra training and the use of body cameras.
While I wholeheartedly support that law enforcement should wear body cameras and could benefit from additional training, I do not support imposing these requirements without a reliable revenue source built in to fund them.
These unfunded mandates will result in either an increase in local property taxes or less police officers on the streets keeping our communities safe.
I am urging the residents of Illinois, who want to keep our communities safe, to contact the Governor’s office and ask him not to sign this ill-advised and hastily formulated piece of legislation.
My hope is that we can use the upcoming spring session to renegotiate criminal justice reform and come up with a bipartisan proposal that can be properly vetted by all the citizens of the state of Illinois.
Numerous Controversial Proposals Rushed Forward During Lame-Duck Session
The lame-duck session saw a number of new and often controversial proposals rushed forward through the legislative process.
In many cases, the bills involved hundreds of pages of language and were quickly filed as amendments before lawmakers were asked to vote “yes” or “no.”
For a bit of perspective, a total of 6,386 pages of amendments were filed during the abbreviated session, which is more than
- the Bible,
- the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and
- the entire Harry Potter series combined.
Besides House Bill 3653, the controversial criminal justice rewrite, other bills passed during the session include:
Senate Bill 1608, a proposal focused on racial economic equity, creates several new requirements, including diversity aspirational goals and a new Commission on Equity and Inclusion, along with the new Illinois Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) modeled after the federal CRA. It also requires each state agency and university to produce race and gender wage reports. While proponents say it will help minority businesses, opponents fear that the way it is written will interfere with existing procurement processes.
House Bill 2170 makes several changes to the Illinois School Code, including new requirements for curriculum, student assessments, accessibility, and more.
The most controversial aspect, however, could be changes to the AIM HIGH scholarship program, which was designed to keep the state’s best and brightest students in Illinois for their college educations.
Under the original layout of the program, state universities had to match AIM HIGH grants dollar-for-dollar.
Under the revised rules in the bill, universities would only have to match either 60% of every dollar, or 20% of every dollar, depending on what percentage of the student body receives Pell Grants.
This would mean that prospective students would likely receive less funding for college under the new rules.
Senate Bill 1480, the Equal Pay Act, creates new standards for employers, including a prohibition on making advancement or termination decisions based on criminal records. Additionally, businesses with more than 100 employees would be required to obtain an “equal pay certificate” from the Department of Labor, by submitting an equal-pay compliance statement and a $150 fee.
Senate Bill 1792 makes changes to the marijuana legalization act to boost equity goals through the creation of the Cannabis Equity Commission.
It creates a 36% APR cap on payday loans.
House Bill 1559 grants additional collective bargaining rights to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). The bargaining rights were originally restricted in the 1990s with the aim of reducing the number of strikes in Chicago.
House Bill 3360 grants prejudgment interest on certain lawsuits, a new concept for Illinois that could increase costs for businesses and encourage lawsuits.
House Bill 2451 grants a 3% compounded cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Chicago firefighter pensions. The pension fund for Chicago firefighters is currently only 18% funded.
New House Speaker
Possibly the biggest news to come out of the recent session, however, was the election of a new House Speaker.
Mike Madigan, the longest serving statehouse speaker in the history of the United States, had served as the Speaker of the Illinois House since 1983, except for two years in the 1990s when Republicans briefly won the majority in the chamber.
The Speaker had recently become embroiled in a federal bribery investigation, which included utility giant ComEd admitting to bribing close associates of his to affect the outcome of legislation.
During the fall, a number of Democrats had voiced their plan to not vote for Madigan in January.
After a couple of days of caucusing during the lame-duck session, Democrats finally decided on Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a close ally of Madigan to serve as Speaker.
Welch was officially elected Speaker on the first day of the 102nd General Assembly, which kicked off with its inauguration immediately following the adjournment of the lame- duck session.