Democrats unveil SAFE-T Act clean-up language before final day of Veto Session

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 9:11 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois Senate Democrats filed a trailer bill to the SAFE-T Act addressing concerns with pretrial fairness language late Tuesday night. Now, the race is on as lawmakers will try to pass the legislation out of both chambers before the veto session ends Thursday.

The proposal is just over 300 pages long with slight clarifications of who can or cannot be released from jail before their trial. Democratic leaders said Wednesday that the trailer bill clarifies the intent of the pretrial fairness portion of the law so it can be implemented correctly.

Under House Bill 1095, anyone charged on or after Jan. 1 will be entered into the new pretrial fairness system. People charged before the start of the year would stay in the current bail system, although the state or defendant will be able to file motions seeking to apply the new system. Judges will prioritize motions for low-level non-violent offenders and their cases must be heard within seven days.

“This is a new system and we want this to work. We want this to work well for everybody,” said House Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria). “We want this to be a more just system. And we want the folks who are implementing it to be able to do it and do it well.”

People considered to be a flight risk would have a court hearing within 60 days while anyone considered to be a threat to public safety would appear for a hearing within 90 days. According to the bill, pretrial release could be denied for anyone charged with a felony who poses a real and present threat to a person or the community based on facts on the case. Forcible felonies such as treason, murder, sexual assault, robbery, home invasion, aggravated battery, and arson would be detainable regardless of someone’s eligibility for probation.

Pretrial release would also be denied for people charged with reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter, child abduction, child endangerment, and hate crimes among others. Still, Republicans are upset that they weren’t included in negotiations for any of the SAFE-T Act trailer bills.

“Is this the final SAFE-T Act? Obviously, the Democrats can’t get this right on their own,” said Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield). “We are willing to work with them to get this right. They have slammed the door in our faces.”

However, Gordon-Booth said no Republicans contacted her to work on the issue. The bill could also create a new grant program to hire more public defenders. Gordon-Booth said many smaller counties don’t have public defenders or have one person who is overworked. The grant program would be administered and overseen by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts with appropriations from the General Assembly.

“They feel like they don’t get proper time to really lean into the representation of their clients because they have so many,” Gordon-Booth said. “And then you also hear from the defendants’ perspective that they don’t feel that they’re getting adequate representation.”

The legislation also defines willful flight as intentionally thwarting the judicial process to avoid prosecution. The language specifies that a single instance of nonappearance in court is not evidence of willful flight. Gordon-Booth noted that patterns of nonappearance and a lack of affirmative steps to address the nonappearances could be considered factors in determining willful flight.

“Oftentimes, there’s trauma, there’s poverty, and there’s all of these things that are happening,” Gordon-Booth said. “We don’t want to always be providing excuses for folks, but we also want to center the realities that a lot of people in our communities are grappling with. We don’t want to be so quick to put people in a far worse situation than necessary when it was something that frankly could have been talked about.”

Law enforcement and state attorneys fought to include the new parameters in the language. McClure said he is glad to see Democrats have expanded the detention net to ensure dangerous people are not let out into communities. Still, he wishes there was more time for transparency.

“This is something that really should be done in a bipartisan way with public hearings at least for a week for something this big,” McClure said. “And unfortunately, we’re not going to get that.”

Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) filed a second amendment to the trailer bill before the Senate session adjourned Wednesday night. The 10-page amendment makes minor changes to address clerical errors in the language filed Tuesday night.

The Senate Executive Committee will discuss HB 1095 during a hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday before bringing the proposal to the Senate floor for a vote. Both chambers would need to approve the bill Thursday for the language to take effect on Jan. 1.

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