Massive bill ends qualified immunity, collective bargaining for unions and eliminates cash bail

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SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus has introduced a sweeping criminal justice omnibus bill that aims to heavily alter the state of policing in Illinois.

Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, introduced a 611-page amendment to House Bill 163 this week in the state Senate, a move that would allow the bill to move during the General Assembly’s upcoming lame duck session scheduled from Friday through Wednesday.

While the bill has been introduced on short notice, it is the result of over 100 hours of hearings held by the Black Caucus over fall and winter months as part of their legislative agenda “to end systemic racism in Illinois.” Criminal justice reform and police accountability made up the first of four pillars in that agenda.

The bill has seen intense pushback from Republican lawmakers and groups representing law enforcement. The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police called it “the worst thing to happen to our profession” and “the end of the law enforcement profession as we know it” in a statement released.

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police was also critical, saying “it might as well be a crime to be a law enforcement officer in Illinois.”

State Rep. David Allen Welter, R-Morris, and state Sen. John Curran, R-Lemont, both released statements opposing HB163, with Welter calling it anti-police.

In response, the Senate Black Caucus distributed their own release, saying: “From our perspective, our communities know what they need in order to be kept safe. We come from the communities we represent. Our experiences, combined with our understanding of policy, have shaped our legislative approach, and they cannot be dismissed when it comes to determining what our communities need.”

The legislation has also received support from criminal justice reform groups such as the Illinois Justice Project and the Building a Safe Illinois Coalition.

HB163 contains several articles that would stand as their own new laws while also amending key components of state law already on the books. While most of the legislation pertains to law enforcement, there are sections devoted to altering other aspects of the criminal justice system, such as pre-trial detention, sentencing laws and prison diversion.

Here’s a look at what’s in the bill.

Use of force: Under the bill’s provisions, law enforcement would have to identify themselves as peace officers and would not be allowed to use force on a fleeing suspect unless that person has just harmed or tried to harm another person, is in possession of a deadly weapon, is considered an active threat to human life or is unable to be apprehended safely at another date.

Officers cannot use deadly force against someone who is considered a threat to themselves and not others, or someone who is committing a property crime, unless the crime is terrorism or in conjunction with another crime where deadly force is authorized.

The bill would also amend the acceptable forms of force, banning chokeholds and any restraints on an individual above their shoulders that can potentially limit their ability to breathe.

Officers would also be prevented from using tear gas or pepper spray without first issuing a warning and allowing “sufficient time and space” to follow the order.

The bill also requires that any time a person dies in police custody or as a result of an officer’s use of force, the associated law enforcement agency must investigate and file a complete report in writing to the Illinois Attorney General within 30 days.

Qualified immunity: Article 5 of HB163 would make police officers individually liable for lawsuits if they violate the rights of a person guaranteed under the Illinois Constitution. The law explicitly states that qualified immunity is not a defense to liability.

Collective bargaining: Under the new changes, employers, which would refer to municipal governments at the county or city level, would not be required to negotiate with unions regarding the discipline or discharge of law enforcement. Existing contracts between law enforcement unions and cities that include provisions regarding discipline and termination will have those sections voided when those contracts are extended or renegotiated.

Pretrial detention: HB163 would eliminate cash bail as a requirement for pretrial release. All mentions of cash bail would be struck from Illinois statutes and replaced with pretrial release conditions. Proponents of eliminating cash bail have long argued it targets poor residents, especially those that are Black or Latino, and that the act of cash bail has contributed to the mass incarceration of these groups for otherwise minor crimes.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

via The News-Gazette

January 7, 2021 at 07:58PM

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