Criminal Justice Reform Will Head To Governor

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The Illinois Senate passed a criminal justice omnibus bill early Wednesday morning after a grueling 20 hours of politicking during Tuesday’s lame duck session. The House followed suit Wednesday morning, clearing the way for the bill to head to the governor.

The legislation is made up of several provisions that touch all facets of the criminal justice system. The Pretrial Fairness Act, a longtime passion project to end cash bail in Illinois by Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, and a complete overhaul of police certification crafted by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul were both absorbed into the omnibus package.

The legislation, an initiative of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, was tied to a new amendment to House Bill 3653, introduced in the early-morning hours Wednesday following mostly private negotiations that stripped down many controversial provisions in the bill.

The Senate met to debate the bill shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday before the measure passed 32-to-23 just before 5 in the morning, moving to the House floor. The House passed the measure before noon Wednesday with the minimum 60 votes needed for approval.

“Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘Plant your feet in the right place and stand firm.’ We are standing firm,” Sen. Elgie Sims, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the bill, said in his closing speech before voting began. “We are fundamentally changing the way we do criminal justice in this state.”

Many of the most debated aspects, such as ending qualified immunity for law enforcement, were reduced or removed from the bill following heavy opposition from law enforcement, labor unions, prosecutors and municipal representatives.

Points of contention were highlighted over three days of subject matter hearings in the House, where Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, also a sponsor of the bill and chairperson of the Judiciary Criminal Committee, fielded testimony and criticism from Republicans

on the committee and representatives from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association.

Still, the scaled down version that made it to the Senate floor was attacked by Republican lawmakers who said its changes were too drastic and would negatively impact the safety of Illinois communities. Some Democratic senators joined Republicans in voting against the bill or didn’t vote at all.

“It is bold, it is transformational, it is supposed to be,” Sims said in response to challenges during Senate debate. “The people of Illinois sent us here. They sent us here to do better by them, not by ourselves. This bill is not about who we are, it’s about the Illinois we strive to be.”

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