Illinois

Illinois lawmakers working on changes to SAFE-T Act as they return to Springfield for fall veto session

Governor JB Pritzker will sign four criminal justice bills into law at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago in July 2021. | Provided photo

Lawmakers return to Springfield in the coming week, and changes are expected to be made to the controversial SAFE-T law, which among other things abolishes bail in Illinois.

The Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity Today or SAFE-T Act was passed by the General Assembly in 2021.

The criminal justice package has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle, including dozens of prosecutors across Illinois who have filed a lawsuit to get the legislation repealed.

Gov. JB Pritzker was asked Wednesday if he expects Democratic lawmakers to change anything about the SAFE-T law.

“I’ll be careful,” Pritzker said. “I’ve got my thoughts straight and we’ll see if we can get anything done during the veto session to address the changes we should be making.”

A supporter of the law, the People’s Lobby, said the election results proved that Illinois residents supported the abolition of cash bail, the law’s most controversial provision.

“Republicans know the facts and data about the incarceration are on our side, so they’ve tried to win people over by fomenting fear and outrage,” said Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville. “What they don’t understand is that Trumpian tactics don’t work in the suburbs.”

Illinois will become the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail on Jan. 1.

House minority leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, a former prosecutor, said there were other provisions in the law that should also be raised a red flag.

“There is another provision here that says anyone who is incarcerated is required to have a 90-day trial or they will be released from prison, and that includes people who may be charged with a criminal offense that may be incarcerated, such as armed robbery are, to someone who was charged with multiple murders. It’s outrageous,” Durkin said.

The consolidated lawsuits challenging the SAFE-T Act are expected to be heard in the Kankakee County Court in early December.

Kendall County Prosecutor Eric Weis said the case may go to the state’s highest court.

“If the law is declared unconstitutional, then obviously there is no law,” Weis said. “However, an appeal then goes directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, has questioned Republicans’ ability to work with Democrats on the measure.

“The SAFE-T bill is an example of Republicans being lax on their oath of office by not honestly negotiating and coming to the table to represent them,” Ford told The Center Square.

State Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, is calling for the law to be repealed entirely, telling The Center Square that Democrats have not given Republicans a chance to negotiate the measure.

“In a perfect world, it’s a complete annulment,” Neimerg said. “This bill passed at 4 a.m. in the Senate and at 6 or 7 a.m. in the House of Representatives. No debate was allowed on this law.”

Niemerg also questioned the legality of the measure.

“We’re at a certain point where this will go into effect on January 1, and we have 100 out of 102 prosecutors who strongly challenge this law,” Niemerg said. “In addition, there were many questions about the constitutionality of this measure.”

Ford said some changes are coming, but he didn’t give any details.

“We worked together to ensure we passed three trailer bills,” said Ford. “We are still working to improve the SAFE-T Act.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the bill is unlikely to be “eviscerated,” but members of a working group of prosecutors, law enforcement, lawmakers and attorneys are still negotiating wording that would become part of a trailer bill.

The trailer law is expected to be introduced during the fall veto session, which begins Tuesday.

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