With Governor JB Pritzker winning a second term and Democrats sticking to the super majority in the General Assembly, Illinois lawmakers this week begin their final session this year with a program that may include amendments to key provisions of controversial criminal law.

The bill, known as the SAFE-T Act, sparked extreme heat during the elections just ended, as Republicans portrayed Pritzker and Democrats as being soft against crime for backing a measure that, among other things, lifts the New Year’s bail.

While Democrats wrote and passed the law, party leaders, including Governor and Attorney General Kwame Raoul, acknowledged that some amendments were needed. Pritzker said the priority of the session starting Tuesday will be to clarify that judges will have to detain accused who pose a risk under the cashless bail system.

“The General Assembly and working groups have done a lot of work in recent months, so they will bring this to the veto session and I will be keeping a close watch,” Pritzker said Wednesday in an unrelated news. conference. “I have clarified my thoughts and we will see if we can do anything during the veto session to deal with the changes that… should be made.”

The upcoming session is not expected to address other issues that played an important role in the elections, including additional safeguards for access to ab*rtion and the proposed ban on assault-type weapons. These very tense topics are likely to be shifted into the new year as the current generation of lawmakers returns to Springfield for a lame duck session before the newly elected legislators are sworn in.

After meeting for three days this week, the legislature is expected to meet for the last three days of the year the week after Thanksgiving, at which point, if the story has any serious task, it will most likely be done.

The Criminal Justice Reform Act signed by Pritzker in early 2021 aimed to improve police accountability and create a fairer criminal justice system. Many of its provisions, such as requiring police officers to wear body cameras by 2025, are not particularly controversial.

However, the lifting of bail, which is largely aimed at ensuring defendants, including those who do not have funds, will not be held behind bars just because they cannot afford the modest amount of bail, has turned out to be a flash point. During the just ended election season, Republicans hammered voters with the message that lifting bail would open prisons and allow those accused of violent crimes to take to the streets.

Much of what came out was misinformation, as the law allows judges to keep defendants behind bars if they are considered a risk of absconding or a threat to society.

However, many law enforcement officials strongly oppose the SAFE-T Act and its no bail policy. This fall, about 60 state attorneys in Illinois, including some Democrats, joined the lawsuit against Pritzker and other leading Democrats, saying the enactment of the law violated the Illinois constitution. A Kankakee judge could make a ruling on the case as early as next month.

House of Representatives chairman Jim Durkin, who announced in the morning after the election that he would not run for another term as president of the minority club, said the post-election period was an opportunity to remedy problems with the new pre-trial system before it goes into effect.

“The window is open for a month and a half to make significant changes to the SAFE-T Act,” said Durkin, a former Cook County attorney who was a staunch critic of the bill. “And if Democrats want to get involved and find responsible changes to this law before it enters into force, count on me. But over the past year, I have not been asked to participate in any negotiations. “

Durkin of Western Springs said he did not expect Democrats to invite Republicans to participate because it “would be an admission of failure” to the party that backed the law.

Under a cashless bail system, defendants will appear at two hearings, the preliminary hearing and the detention hearing, both of which are designed to provide a more comprehensive view of whether they should be released or detained pending trial.

Officials stressed that the law did not mean that those accused of violent crimes would automatically be released. Judges will analyze the circumstances and decide whether or not to keep someone in custody while charges are pending. The Illinois Supreme Court task force is helping criminal courts across the state prepare for change.

One section of the law that deals with opponents deals with how defendants are considered a risk of absconding. As it is written, the law says that prosecutors cannot just use a defendant’s prior failure to appear in court to convince judges that they may be at risk of absconding. Instead, authorities would have to prove that the accused planned to escape from prosecution on purpose.

Also, alarming opponents of the law is a measure that requires police officers to issue tickets, instead of arrests, for certain offenses if the suspect does not pose a threat to the community. Misdemeanors include trespassing, leading to fears fueled by opponents of the law that it is impossible to get a stranger out of private property.

People familiar with the discussions on the changes said the law could be clarified to ensure that the police could be arrested in such situations.

“I will be advocating clarity to make sure the language is in the best public interest, so that the police have the tools they need in the law, and it is clear that they have legal instructions to arrest people for trespassing. “Said state representative La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat who voted in favor of the SAFE-T bill. “If we don’t explain it, citizens have the burden of taking matters into their own hands, and we don’t need it.”

Garien Gatewood, who helps lead an advocacy group for detainees, said that discussions about the law were initially dominated by issues of police accountability. The legislation was in part due to, inter alia, the m*rder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department.

However, in the months leading up to Tuesday’s elections, the no-bail ruling became a major point of controversy, leading to an “unprecedented knockback of the bill,” Gatewood said. Behind many political mailings condemning the bill was conservative radio presenter Dan Proft of Naples, Florida, who runs an independent spending committee supporting Republican candidate Darren Bailey.

“The timing of this is no surprise. This is what we expected, of course not at this level, “said Gatewood, director of the Illinois Justice Project, who participates in discussions with state legislators on possible changes to the law. “But it gave us an opportunity to push back the disinformation.”

Champaign’s Democratic Senator Scott Bennett, a former prosecutor, insisted on changes to the law that would include allowing early court appearance as convincing evidence to keep defendants locked up.

During the campaign, Pritzker pointed to Bennett’s ideas as worth considering, but other supporters dismissed them as potentially undermining the intention to abandon the bail system.

One of the challenges facing lawmakers in the upcoming session is that any measure that is adopted requires a three-fifths majority in both houses if it is to be effective immediately. While Democrats have a super majority in both houses, rounding off enough votes on controversial issues to make it clear that the obstacle is not always obvious.

This is the main reason why any action on key issues such as gun control and ab*rtion is more likely to be undertaken after the new year, when only a simple majority would be needed.

Many Democrats, including Pritzker, have pushed for a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition warehouses since the July 4 mass shooting at Highland Park, which killed seven people and injured dozens.

Pritzker and other Democrats also looked for ways to strengthen their already powerful ab*rtion protection and support providers struggling with the influx of patients from other states in light of the US Supreme Court decision to invalidate Roe v. Weapons this summer.

The day after his victory over Bailey, Pritzker said both items remain on the agenda, if not in the upcoming session “in January or at the beginning of the (next) session”.

“We will work to pass a ban on assault weapons and make sure that we protect women’s reproductive rights by increasing the capacity and… making the investments needed here in our state to protect women,” said Pritzker.

The House of Representatives Group of Democrats has been meeting with law enforcement, victims, gun security defenders and others for the past summer to come up with proposals to tackle gun violence, said Deerfield representative Bob Morgan, who led the discussion.

“We’ve almost completed our work and will have recommendations to share in the coming weeks,” Morgan said in a statement Wednesday.

MP Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who is negotiating in the House on potential changes to the state’s ab*rtion law, said lawmakers and attorneys are working methodically to make sure any new laws protecting providers or patients who may be subject to criminal policies in other states are not exposed to lawsuits.

“We’re trying to be surgical the way we do it to be as likely as possible to withstand a lawsuit,” Cassidy said.

The dedication to more time will also allow supporters to judge what impact winning Michigan’s election night victory could have on the Illinois landscape, Cassidy said.

Rick Pearson of The Tribune contributed to this story.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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