Victims rights, state budget, voter empowerment & more

Victims rights, state budget, voter empowerment & more

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CRIMINAL LAW
House Republicans, victims’ advocates say victims not protected in criminal justice bill, urge veto. State Representatives David Welter, Mike Marron and Chris Bos were joined by Vermilion County State’s Attorney Jacqueline Lacy, as well as domestic violence survivor and victims’ advocate Cassandra Tanner-Miller for a press conference on Thursday. The group addressed several issues with the recently passed criminal justice reform legislation, House Bill 3653, that pose serious consequences for victims of violent crime, as well as witness and their families.
Rep. David Welter noted conflicting language related to the elimination of cash bail and the inconsistent standards of how a threat is determined in releasing a violent offender.

“House Bill 3653 enhances protections for individuals charged with violent crimes at the expense of the victims of those crimes,” said Rep. Welter. “A family who is mourning the loss of a loved one as the result of a violent crime should not be victimized further by watching the court system be compelled to allow the perpetrator of that crime to avoid detention due to the elimination of cash bail. I urge the Governor to veto this bill so the General Assembly can come back to the table and craft criminal justice reform that meets the concerns of victims and survivors.”

Cassandra Tanner-Miller lost her young son because her abusive ex-husband, Christopher Miller, was released without a cash bond. Ms. Tanner-Miller barely survived the assault and has been an advocate for survivors and reforming Illinois law ever since. She expressed deep concerns that the provisions in HB 3653 that loosen regulations on the standard for threat and willful flight for detention will make it more difficult to hold violent offenders.

“HB 3653 will be a complete dismantling of victims’ safety and rights,” said Ms. Tanner-Miller. “Illinois legislators need to work together with all entities, to build upon our criminal justice system, to ensure criminals who knowingly are breaking laws have accountability for their choices. Eliminating cash bail will be detrimental to victims and more Christopher Miller’s will be walking out of the courthouse free, putting victims and their families in direct danger. I know this personally because my son’s murderer had been released on a ‘no cash bail’ just weeks before our tragedy took place. We cannot go backward in our criminal justice system. We need to work proactively towards a safer Illinois.”

Rep. Mike Marron expressed concern about the confusing patchwork of definitions within HB 3653 and how it will make it more difficult for State’s Attorneys to protect victims and their families.

“We are a nation of laws. Because of that, we have freedom and safety. I believe that legal consequences are necessary for people that commit serious crimes. The end of cash bail and confusion surrounding pre-trial detention are issues I know are particularly concerning to law enforcement officials,” said Rep. Marron. “I hope Governor Pritzker is listening to the public officials like State’s Attorney Lacy that will have to deal with the real-world impacts of such sweeping changes. He must veto HB 3653 to protect victims of violent crime.”

Vermilion County State’s Attorney Jacqueline Lacy keyed in on several concerning aspects of HB 3653 during her remarks and highlighted the danger posed to public safety.

“The proposals set forth in House Bill 3653 pose a serious threat to public safety, specifically, to victims and witnesses of violent crimes in our community,” said State’s Attorney Lacy.

Although Rep. Chris Bos was sworn-in to represent the 51st District after the passage of HB 3653 and was unable to vote on the legislation, he felt compelled to speak out as an advocate for victims. Bos works with an organization called Reclaim13, a non-profit that works to free children from sexual exploitation by focusing on prevention programs for adolescents and adults, and healing programs for children and young adult victims of human trafficking. The majority of the children helped by the organization come from underserved communities that HB 3653 is intended to help.

“Everyone agrees that reform within our criminal justice system to address critical problems is needed,” said Rep. Bos. “However, when I consider that under House Bill 3653 a victim, like a child who has been sexually abused, could be compelled to face their attacker at a hearing within hours of an assault – I’m frankly at a loss. The trauma that would cause a victim is unthinkable. For this reason, and for Ms. Tanner-Miller’s story and others like it, House Bill 3653 should be vetoed to allow for a more thorough public debate and vetting process that includes all affected.”

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GENERAL ASSEMBLY
House prepares for February 10 session day. One of the orders of business for next Wednesday, which is expected to be the only session day held in February, will be to approve new rules for the House of Representatives in the 102ndGeneral Assembly. Former House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who served as speaker from 1983 until 1995 and again from 1997 until 2021, was harshly criticized for developing a set of rules that enabled ironclad control over the functions of the House. The January 2021 move by the House Democrats to elect a new Speaker creates an opportunity for new rules that will enable a voice for all Illinois citizens.

The Illinois House is also organizing itself into committees to hear bills and hold hearings. As part of this move, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has appointed members of his caucus to serve as spokespersons for each committee. Additional House committee members will soon be appointed. One issue being closely watched is the question of how much House committee work will be done remotely through the use of virtual technology.

BUDGET
January 2021 revenues up. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal economic-stimulus measures enacted to counter it, have led to a mammoth increase in State spending. The pandemic and the stimulus have also led to a corresponding, but much smaller, upswing in State tax revenues from income and sales taxes.

Revenue numbers for January reported by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) show that this tax trend continued into the first month of 2021. Personal income tax revenues rose $212 million, year over year, as Illinois residents paid taxes on their consolidated household incomes. January was a quarterly tax-payment month, for residents with capital gains and other sources of non-paycheck income, and with U.S. and international equities markets at or close to all-time highs there was significant new tax revenue from this source.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply affected Illinois retail sales and sales tax receipts. Many places that customarily collect and remit sales tax to the State, especially restaurants and taverns, have been shut down or are operating at levels of diminished capacity. Despite this effect of the pandemic, Illinois sales tax revenues rose $29 million in January 2021 from the levels remitted in January 2020 on a year-over-year basis. Together with increased corporate income tax payment of $70 million in January 2021, and increases from other sources, total State of Illinois general revenues increased $407 million in January 2021 over the levels taken in one year earlier.

COVID-19
Entire state back to Phase 4 of reopening plan. All 11 of Illinois’ public health regions are now back in Phase 4 of the State’s reopening plan, allowing for the resumption of youth sports and for indoor dining with certain restrictions. Figures released this week showed significant ongoing improvements in COVID-19 case positivity rates, in line with a growing percentage of at-risk individuals being vaccinated in combination with continued compliance by many Illinoisans with guidelines regarding facial coverings and social distancing.

The seven-day statewide rolling average case positivity rate continued its steady decline, dropping to 3.4 percent, a number not seen since Oct. 6. These positivity rates, in the lower half of single digits, signaled continued progress by Illinois at dealing with the now longstanding challenges of this pandemic. Lower positivity rates, hospitalization numbers, and intensive care unit (ICU) utilization numbers means that Illinois can move into fields of less-intensive mitigation, including some indoor dining.

Even when the ratio of active cases per coronavirus test administered is low, many Illinoisans continue to be getting sick with this deadly, contagious illness. More than 16.3 million tests have been administered in Illinois, and even though less than 10% of the cases have back “positive” so far, more than 1.1 million cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Illinois.

EDUCATION

ISBE’s “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Standards” prioritize activism over academics. On February 16th, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) will consider a rule drafted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) entitled: “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards”. If adopted, these standards will burden our teaching programs with additional mandates just at the time when Illinois is suffering from a shortage of teachers. At the start of the 2020 school year, there were 2,000 teacher vacancies reported in Illinois schools. With these new requirements, we risk increasing the teacher shortage and losing quality, new teachers. But what we’re really seeing here is not so much an attempt to expand our teacher rolls as it is a means by which those who set education policy are cementing social activism into our schools.

During a virtual news conference Monday, three House Republican members said they hope JCAR will block the adoption of the proposed rules.

“You know, across the country and around the world, we’ve seen politics be injected in more and more parts of our lives. And the litmus test of ‘is someone progressive enough or not’ has come up time and time again,” said Rep. Tom Demmer. “Unfortunately, the rule that’s being offered by the State Board of Education today, around culturally responsive teaching standards, is really just an attempt to impose further progressive politics into our education system, instead of focusing on the things that we know teachers, administrators, students and families across Illinois need.”

Demmer was joined in the news conference by Reps. Steve Reick and Adam Niemerg. Demmer and Reick both serve on JCAR.

Reick pointed specifically to a portion of the new standards that call on teachers to “understand and value the notion that multiple lived experiences exist, that there is not one ‘correct’ way of doing or understanding something, and that what is seen as ‘correct’ is most often based on our lived experiences.”

He also pointed to another provision calling on teachers to “(a)ssess how their biases and perceptions affect their teaching practice and how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.)”

Another provision calls on educators to “(b)e aware of the effects of power and privilege and the need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students and communities.”

“Let’s be clear. This rule is not an improvement to education,” Reick said. “It’s an attempt to interject politics into the classroom. The standards that ISBE wants to impose are beyond misguided. Requiring certain political viewpoints in our school systems is simply unacceptable.”

State Rep. Adam Niemerg said teachers should already be making their students feel welcomed and accepted. But the proposed rule, he said, compels teachers to promote “progressive” ideas while neglecting the basics.

“About two-thirds of Illinois students failed to meet standards for math and English and this will further exacerbate that particular situation and put focus on activism and politicize our school districts all the way through academia, K-12 and then through the collegiate level as well so that will force folks to look to other states in order to provide education for their children,” Niemerg said.
STATE GOVERNMENT
House and Senate GOP announce Voter Empowerment Project. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin joined Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, Senator Jason Barickman, and Representative Mark Batinick on Wednesday to unveil the Voter Empowerment Project.

The Voter Empowerment Project is a series of constitutional amendments which will allow Illinois voters to take a more active role in the legislative process.
The legislative package involves three constitutional amendments:

  • HJR CA 4 – Allows for the recall of any elected official in the state (excluding judges)
  • HJR CA 5 – Permits Illinois citizens to make substantive changes to their state constitution
  • HJR CA 6 – Gives Illinois voters the ability to reject any Public Act through referendum

“For too long, the citizens of Illinois have been taken advantage of by the political machine in our state. High taxes and skyrocketing debt have left Illinoisans disillusioned with state government,” said Leader Durkin. “Today we are proposing a package that will finally give the people of Illinois the chance to be in control of their government and give them their voice back.”

State of Illinois buys replacement for Thompson Center. The 17-story West Loop building purchase will create replacement office space for the James R. Thompson Center, the State of Illinois’ current office building in downtown Chicago. The office building at 555 West Monroe Street, purchased by the State for $73 million, generates much lower maintenance and operational costs than the Thompson Center. Even with the cost of financing the debt to buy the new building, the move will generate approximately $20 million in annual budget savings.

Designed as an architectural showplace, the Thompson Center was built as a vast atrium surrounded by horseshoe-shaped rings of office space. The all-glass exterior sucked in heat during the summer and radiated warmth in winter, leading to major unanticipated energy costs. In addition, the open-plan building design could not be rebuilt in conformity to post-9/11 security standards. As a crowning blow, the 2020 pandemic effectively closed down the Thompson Center as a daily workspace. At the same time, the pandemic cut prices on existing Chicago real estate and made the purchase of a replacement building financially feasible.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has long fought to sell the Thompson Center and end the building’s taxpayer-unfriendly cash bleed. The State’s new building contains 429,316 feet of modern interior space, including office floors that are laid out much more efficiently than the floors of the Thompson Center’s architectural layout.

WEEK IN REVIEW
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