Democrats at the Illinois Capitol have spent the past several weeks trying to put together a package of bills relating to policing and crime in the state.
The set of bills includes a variety of measures which direct more funds to police departments, adjusts the criminal code and tweaks existing law around public safety.
"We passed a public safety package that addresses very real concerns in our communities while also targeting the root causes of violence," said House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, in his last words during the legislature’s spring session. "We had to address it holistically. That’s what we did here this session."
The bills, all of which were formally introduced by Democrats, had near-unanimous support from the state’s majority party and had varying degrees of buy-in from Republicans.
State spending $5 million to prosecute ‘organized retail crime’
One of the final bills approved by the legislature in its last week of session directed millions of dollars into prosecuting a new type of criminal violation: organized retail crime.
Sometimes conflated with "smash and grab" theft, a bill approved by the legislature early Saturday morning defines organized retail crime as an either a group of individuals committing assault or battery while stealing from a store.
It also defines being a "manager of the organized retail crime" as someone directing another person to steal more than merchandise from a store with the intent to resell it, steal merchandise while its in transit, perform fraudulent returns or to "obtain control over" merchandise known to be stolen.
The new law only applies to thefts of over $300 of merchandise.
The bill, HB 1091, passed in the Senate with some bipartisan support on a 42-10 vote. The House approved the measure by a wide margin on a 96-5 vote, with two lawmakers voting "present."
In addition to defining this crime, the bill also requires online retailers such as eBay or Amazon to collect and verify information about the identity of anyone who sells more than $5,000 worth of product on their platform or makes more than 200 sales in the span of one year.
The bill was controversial when going through the legislative process, with earlier drafts of the measure attracting opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Women’s Justice Institute, Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice, Illinois Prison Project and more.
Stephanie Kollmann is the policy director at the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University. She manages legal research and reform projects for the organization. Though the center did not take a position on the bill, Kollmann spoke out against it.
"It became a local news story because it was pushed by the police and the internet," she said.
In fact, an analysis from the Children and Family Justice Center found that robberies in Chicago have fallen almost every year since 2021, with the overall number falling by more than 50% since 2001.
The bill was championed by Attorney General Kwame Raoul as well as the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
Officials from the attorney general’s office said they became interested in the crime, not for its direct impacts, but for its potential consequences.
"Organized retail crime does not just (mean) smash and grabs that have been in the news, but also proceeds that fund everything from gun running and narcotics," said Ashley Wright, the legislative director at the Attorney General’s office.
Some in the General Assembly criticized it for inventing a new category of crime.
"This legislation is doing absolutely nothing," said Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield.
"It’s just the same old stuff with some different language in the statutes," he later added.
A particular provision of the bill drew criticism from some survivors’ rights groups and members of the General Assembly. Under a provision in the bill, retail establishments who are the victims of organized retail theft would have to be notified within seven days of any court case resulting from the crime.
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Evanston, voted against the measure and said until another law is filed, "large retailers have more rights than a woman who has been raped."
State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, a chief co-sponsor of the bill, defended the proposal by saying that he was committed to ensuring parity for victims of violent crime. He has since introduced HB 5748, which would require that victims be notified at least seven days prior to any court proceedings related to them.
Lawmakers approve 3rd follow-up to last year’s criminal justice reform bill
Early Saturday morning, lawmakers got into a shouting match on the House floor over a bill clarifying and tweaking some provisions from the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act, a sweeping criminal justice reform backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
A follow-up bill, SB 2364, to that would change some provisions of the SAFE-T Act, most notably allowing law enforcement officers to arrest people for traffic offenses and certain other minor infractions if they pose a threat to the community or have a mental or medical health issue and pose a risk to themselves. It also changes the rules for electronic monitoring and home detention, shifting the law from allowing two days of free movement per week to "two periods of time," as determined by the detainee’s supervising authority.
"This is not a penalty enhancement," said Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, in his opening remarks about the bill. "This is a policy enhancement."
But in discussion of the bill, debate devolved into a confrontation between Slaughter and House Republicans after Slaughter accused Republicans of creating the current "crisis."
"We are literally in this crisis because of your failed ‘lock ’em up, throw away the key’ policies," Slaughter said.
From there, Republican lawmakers started to jeer and boo Slaughter, who in turn raised his voice.
“It’s a bad stench of racism coming from the other side of the aisle,” Slaughter said, prompting more loud jeers, boos and shouts.
“The bottom line is that you don’t deserve our respect," he said, after which some Republicans continued to boo, while others shouted for the acting speaker to intervene.
‘Co-responder unit’ coming to Springfield, 3 other cities
One of the crime bills that passed this week has a direct effect on Springfield. A bill from two Peoria Democrats, Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth and Sen. David Koehler, creates a co-responder pilot program in Peoria, Waukegan, East St. Louis and Springfield.
The program would create a unit within the police departments in those four cities that employs a social worker to "provide trauma-informed crisis intervention, case management, advocacy and ongoing emotional support to the victims of all crimes," according to the bill.
The bill, HB 4736, passed in the Senate on Thursday on a nearly party-line 40-17 vote, with Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy voting for the measure. It passed with bipartisan support in the House on Friday in a 109-2 vote.
“The co-responder program offers a helping hand to survivors when it comes to locating and accessing important resources in the days and weeks following an incident," said Koehler in a Friday statement.
The bill also renames and expands the eligibility for a victims and witness protection program that can provide financial assistance to those materially impacted by their choice to participate in the prosecution of a crime.
“Undergoing trauma caused by a crime, especially crimes of a violent nature, can be a very isolating experience,” Koehler said.
Illinois becomes 12th state to pass ban on unserialized guns
Guns without serial numbers, which some have called "ghost guns," were a controversial issue at the Capitol at the end of the session, as lawmakers voted to ban the sale and possession of these guns.
These guns can be made using traditional gunsmithing equipment, by removing the serial number from a gun or be assembled using a kit and a 3D printer.
Ten states had laws on the books banning these types of guns before this week, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In addition to Illinois’ potential new ban, Maryland also enacted its own ban of guns without serial numbers on Saturday.
The bill banning this type of gun, HB 4383, passed on a 31-19 vote in the Senate and a 66-36 vote in the House.
"Ghost guns are untraceable guns due to their lack of serial numbers," said Buckner, the bill’s chief House sponsor.
In late March, Buckner and other lawmakers announced the initiative to ban guns without serial numbers with G-PAC, a political organization focused on gun violence prevention.
“These untraceable weapons are sold by cynical companies evading our gun laws to flood the streets with unregulated weapons," said David Pucino, deputy chief counsel at Giffords Law Center in a March 28 statement.
Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, is an outspoken advocate for firearms owners. On Wednesday, he was a featured speaker at an event hosted by the Illinois State Rifle Association.
In debate in the early hours of Saturday morning, Anderson sparred with the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago.
"The problem here is that we’re trying to fix a problem that is unfixable," said Anderson.
Anderson also criticized the bill for what he viewed as unclear language as it relates to what defines a gun and which parts of a gun need to be "serialized" and stamped with a serial number.
"Our language is consistent with ATF language," said Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, referring to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms.
Contact Andrew Adams: firstname.lastname@example.org; (312)-291-1417; twitter.com/drewjayadams.
via The State Journal-Register
April 9, 2022 at 01:27PM