Legislators advance bills on state FOID card system, barring background checks for public meeting attendees

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Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. | AP file

Those bills were among the measures passed by lawmakers ahead of the close of their legislative session, which is slated for May 31.

State lawmakers took a step toward reshaping Illinois’ Firearm Owners Identification card system and could soon require public schools to give elementary school students 30 minutes of unstructured play time under bills that passed the General Assembly Saturday, days before they’re set to adjourn.

In the House, lawmakers held a heated debate on House Bill 1091, one of two bills in the legislature that’s aimed at making the state’s FOID card system more effective.

Rep. Maura Hirschauer, D-Batavia, sponsored the bill and introduced it in the House. Hirschauer saaid it would create an option for an electronic FOID card; allow for automatic renewal of the card when one’s concealed carry license is renewed and requires an applicant seeking to get, or renew, a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card to include a full set of their fingerprints to the Illinois State Police, unless the applicant has already done so.

Hirschauer said the bill will help to “keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” like the man who fatally shot five of his coworkers in 2019 at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora.

Because of a prior felony conviction, that shooter should not have had a gun, but he lied on his FOID application, an omission that wasn’t discovered until “it was too late,” Hirschauer said.

“This bill is not a magic fix for the gun violence that plagues our state and our nation,” Hirschauer said. “It is, however, a crucially important step that we as legislators can take right now to prevent mass tragedies and everyday gun violence…”

Republicans said they agreed something should be done to address the state’s FOID issues, but the bill was “not the vehicle” for those changes, according to Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur.

“… When you pack a bill full of things that are truly anti-legal gun owners, you put ourselves in an adversarial position,” Caulkins said. “There are many many things in this bill that we could support, but, like a lot of things, when you start packing in these other side issues that creates the problems …”

That bill passed 60 to 50, largely along party lines, and now heads to the Senate, where Hirschauer said it will be amended.

Lawmakers also passed Senate Bill 654, which would mandate 30 minutes of unstructured play time for students in kindergarten through fifth grade in the state’s public schools, Chicago Democratic Rep. Aaron Ortiz, who sponsored the legislation, said.

That bill passed, 60 to 52, over Republican objections that the bill mandated play time instead of time for other coursework. It heads back to the Senate so members there can agree to changes.

Legislation prohibiting law enforcement from conducting background checks on those attending public meetings unless they pose a security risk passed the Senate.

“For years, folks were showing up to Chicago Police Board meetings for their civic duty and every citizen who showed up experienced a background check,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago. “That’s a violation of so many people’s rights.”

Peters referenced a 2019 Chicago Tribune report that found law enforcement officials have conducted background checks on those who attended police board meetings since at least 2013.

Republican Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said law enforcement who’ve tried to keep people safe now “have to try and prove what their motivation was or what their intent was.”

“I truly do not understand how law enforcement could be prohibited from protecting us by doing simple background checks when someone comes into a meeting,” Bryant said.

The bill, HB1765, passed 37 to 17 and returns to the House so members there can agree on changes.

Another bill passed by the Senate would prevent Illinoisans being found in violation of their pretrial release or furlough if they help someone experiencing an overdose.

Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, said the bill may allow those who commit a drug-induced homicide to be “immune from prosecution.”

“If the person is on pretrial release, you can’t use evidence [from the scene] to revoke their pretrial release,” said McClure. “This is an easy way out for someone who commits a horrible mistake or does something intentionally horrible and then calls 911. Essentially, they are now not going to be able to be punished for that.”

Sen. Laura Ellman, D-Naperville, said the bill would only effect the hypothetical murderer’s pretrial release conditions, not the prosecution of a new crime they may have committed.

“The purpose of this bill is to help people get help if they are experiencing an overdose,” Ellman said. “This is a vote to keep people alive.”

The bill, HB3445, passed in a 40 to 16 vote and now returns to the House.

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May 29, 2021 at 07:39PM

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