In early January 2021, a lame duck General Assembly passed the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act.
On Tuesday, I noted that landmark omnibus package broadly addresses criminal justice but has been reduced in the public square to a conversation about the end of cash bail, effective New Year’s Day.
Another topic hotly discussed in January 2021 was reforming legal protections granted specifically to law enforcement to balance that privilege against civilians’ rights. That’s a fancy way of saying “qualified immunity,” a phrase also avoided when establishing the Task Force on Constitutional Rights and Remedies.
There are political reasons “ending cash bail” dominated campaign conversations over the last year, but a practical one as well: the qualified immunity task force hasn’t met since Dec. 8, 2021, and ultimately didn’t produce actionable recommendations.
Under the auspices of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the 18-member panel did gather as the new law required. Information about those sessions is available online, most notably a collection of letters submitted before the final session from a number of individuals and organizations assessing a future course (tinyurl.com/ICJIAtaskforce).
Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association: “We do not believe that the SAFE-T Act should be the end of important conversations about police and their interactions with their communities, but we do believe this Act needs time to become fully effective in order for us to understand the full impact and effects on those interactions.”
Peter Hanna, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois legal adviser: “We ask that the Task Force recommend that the Illinois Assembly enact legislation that would allow a person to bring a cause of action in Illinois state court against peace officers who, while on duty, violate that person’s rights under the Illinois Constitution.”
Highland City Manager Chris Conrad, representing the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police: “The complex issue is how to protect the interests of all involved when an individual’s rights are violated due to a good-faith mistake made by public employees doing very difficult jobs.”
Those excerpts are meant less to summarize the writers’ positions and more to illustrate the complexities of an issue that, like eliminating cash bail, long preceded the SAFE-T Act. The task force expired at the end of 2021, so reconvening would require additional legislation. As is becoming the theme of this short look at many SAFE-T Act provisions, that one law, one vote, can never be the entire story.
The task force concluded, but the work continues. Reformers maintain a head-down approach to sincerely studying a controversial topic, which eventually will produce actual legislative proposals.
When that day comes, pass or fail, no one should feign surprise an idea is on the table.
Scott T. Holland
Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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November 23, 2022 at 07:39AM