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Home Crime Illinois Senate clears SAFE-T Act changes — including options for those already in jail

Illinois Senate clears SAFE-T Act changes — including options for those already in jail

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SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate on Thursday approved changes to the controversial criminal justice package known as the SAFE-T Act, including adding felonies and crimes such as kidnapping and arson to the charges that qualify someone to be detained while awaiting trial.

The revisions would also set up an option for those already in jail to request to be under the new no-cash bail system.

The Illinois Senate voted 38-17 to approve the measure — and the Illinois House planned to take it up for a vote later Thursday.

Democrats for weeks said they planned on tweaking and clarifying the measure that includes ending cash bail on Jan. 1 — but not overhauling it, despite resistance from some states’ attorneys and Republicans. The new law was used as political fodder during the contentious election cycle that ended last month — but the criticism and complaints did help to spotlight some areas of the legislation that Democrats agreed required clarification.

Among the most overt changes is that those charged before Jan. 1 would be able to remain in the old bail system — or request to be moved to the new system. 

A portion of the law called the “Pre-trial Fairness Act” eliminates cash bail starting Jan. 1. Under the legislation signed into law earlier this year, for those charged after the start of the year, judges would decide who remains locked up while awaiting trial, rather than requiring defendants to pay bail to be released from jail. The decision would be based on the crime and whether the defendants was considered a threat to safety or likely to flee.

The original law would only have applied to those charged in the future.

But under the proposed changes that passed the Senate on Thursday, defendants already in jail — and prosecutors — would be able to petition for a hearing to determine whether those defendants should be released.

That petition can be denied. But those with the lowest level offenses, such as shoplifting, must have a hearing within seven days of a request. For those considered a flight risk, a hearing would be held within 60 days and for those considered to be potential threats to safety, hearings must be held within 90 days. 

Critics of the initial measure also took issue with a provision that required police to ticket, rather than arrest, people for some misdemeanors, including trespassing.

Democrats said the provision always allowed for police to be able to arrest someone for trespassing — but sponsors said new language was included in the revisions to “clarify the intent” of the language in the original bill. Police can arrest someone for trespassing if the person poses a threat to the community or any person and if the accused has a medical or mental health issue that poses a risk to their safety. 

Other changes include providing consistency for what prosecutors must show to detain someone on grounds the individual is a threat. A “dangerousness standard” would mean a person poses a real and present threat to any person or persons or the community, based on the specific facts of the case.

The new proposal also expands the list of crimes in which someone can be denied pretrial release, now including arson, second-degree murder and kidnapping.

An amendment to the measure that cleared the Senate also defined “willful flight” to stress that the intent is to detain those who are actively evading prosecution, not someone who simply failed to appear in court. It also clarifies that judges can issue arrest warrants or summons when someone misses their court date. 

During a lengthy debate, state Senate Republicans criticized the way the measure passed — and the need for trailer legislation. Senate Minority Leader-elect John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said Republicans had “an hour to approve” the original legislation two years ago and argued the minority party should have been brought further into the bill process.

“If we’re ever going to tackle the full issues of the state, we’re going to have to need all voices,” Curran said. “And freezing out 35% of the state’s population, essentially saying, ‘Elected Republicans, we’re just going to send you off to the side, and we’re not going to include your representative in the process. That’s anti-democratic. I think we can do better.”

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, called debate over the measure part of “the most frustrating and disgusting, embarrassing day in history.” The former GOP gubernatorial nominee argued that Republicans, and the public, had no say in the legislation.

“It’s a slap in the face to every voter. It’s a slap in the face to every business owner. It’s a slap in the face to every police officer,” Bailey said. “It’s a slap in the face, even to our states’ attorneys who obviously don’t have a voice here.”

But bill sponsor state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, denied that claim, saying Republican states’ attorneys were in the room for extensive negotiations about the measure. Sims noted the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and other states’ attorneys organizations no longer oppose the measure.

“This is a good piece of legislation. This is the result of hours of testimony, hours of negotiation, hours of work by individuals they say they support,” Sims said. “Now you have domestic violence survivors, domestic violence advocates crime survivors’ advocates say they support this piece of legislation. And they’re still not happy. … This is a product of good work.”

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, head of the bipartisan Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, testified before the Illinois Senate Executive Committee that the organization took a neutral position on the bill, but had previously opposed the initial measure.

Rietz acknowledged that she was “disappointed” with the original process in which the bill was passed, but didn’t oppose the measure because of some of the tweaks, including the changing of language when it comes to willful flight.

“All in all we believe this is a good move forward on Jan. 1 when it comes to the original legislation,” Rietz said.

The roughly 60 SAFE-T Act lawsuits filed by Illinois state’s attorneys and sheriffs have all been consolidated before a judge in Kankakee County, who is aiming to rule on the challenges by Dec. 15. Oral arguments are set for Dec. 7.

That litigation is unlikely to be seriously affected by the new changes. Rather, the lawsuits revolve around whether the SAFE-T Act broadly aligns with the state constitution, both in its content and how it became law.

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