(The Center Square) – Illinois lawmakers have introduced a major criminal justice reform bill that includes ending cash bail and qualified immunity for police officers and allows anonymous complaints against officers.
State lawmakers could consider a variety of issues when the Illinois Legislature convenes for the final days of the 101st General Assembly.
One of the major issues expected to be tackled during the lame-duck session could impact law enforcement and the criminal code.
House Bill 163 was amended with 611 pages this week. What was initially a measure for prescription drug monitoring turned into a measure full of changes to the state’s criminal code and change to how law enforcement is regulated.
“As explained by ILSAAP, this bill is wrong, disastrous, and dangerous on so many levels,” McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said.
“Without hyperbole and if passed in its current form, this bill will all but mandate the immediate pretrial release of drug-dealers, sex offenders, and drunk drivers irrespective of their likelihood of reoffending, the danger they pose generally to the public, or their willingness to comply with conditions of their release,” Kenneally added.
Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said that he supports the reform bill but added that it needs certain changes.
“House Bill 163 represents important changes to our criminal justice system. I fully support these efforts to make our communities safer and our courthouse fairer. This bill includes reforms that I have been advocating for and discussing for years,” Rinehart said.
“But more work needs to be done to ensure these critical reforms also take into account our police officers and survivors of crimes,” Rinehart added.
Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk said the measure is too broad and if ever implemented, he’d quit being a police officer immediately.
Kaitschuk said, among other things, the measure eliminates charges for habitual criminals, eliminates cash bail, and would no longer have suspensions of drivers’ licenses for traffic violations.
HB 163 would also, among other things, eliminate qualified immunity, something the sheriffs say would make police “civilly liable to siren chasing trial lawyers.”
It also prohibits law enforcement from certain federal surplus programs, mandates body cameras for all departments without increased funding, and “defunds any department that does not comply 100% with the draconian requirements of the legislation,” the sheriffs said.
Kaitschuk said among the slew of proposed changes, one thing is missing – licensing police, something some in the law enforcement community have concerns about.
“My assumption would be is that that will be introduced on another bill,” Kaitschuk said. “And my fear would be is that maybe this bill doesn’t move forward, but ‘oh, by the way here’s police licensing, it’s not nearly as bad,’ so is that an opportunity for them to pass that.”
He said there needs to be more conversation about these issues.
“I don’t remember a time ever where anything good ever passed during the lame duck,” Kaitschuk said. “The whole point of passing something in the lame duck is because something can happen quickly and people don’t have time to react and fairly respond to it. That’s it.”
Spokespeople of the amendment sponsor didn’t immediately respond for comment.
Other issues that could come up during the short session: some Illinois municipalities could be looking for legislation, like changing the payment plan for public safety pensions.
The Republican minority has concerns about the possibility of tax increases.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said while the Black agenda is important, included in his top priority is making sure the state’s adult-use cannabis law is more inclusive to people of color.
“It is important because making sure that people have access to capital and business opportunities is critical to a healthy lifestyle for Blacks,” Ford said.
Cannabis Business Association of Illinois Executive Director Pam Althoff fully expected something to advance in the lame-duck session.
“I have yet to see it but I do know that it’s a strong cooperation between not only the industry, but the General Assembly and the [Pritzker] administration,” Althoff said.
Lawmakers canceled nearly 70% of their scheduled legislative days the second year of the 101st General Assembly.
Friday will be the first time they’ve been back in session since May 2020. The House will conduct business with COVID-19 protocols, similar to how they did in May at a convention center in Springfield.
Any legislation not passed by both chambers before Wednesday dies as the first day of the 102nd General Assembly begins.
The Center Square and Lake and McHenry County Scanner both contributed to this story.