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SIU forward Anthony D'Avanzo (33) and guard Lance Jones (5) defend as Valparaiso forward Ben Krikke (23) passes during the first half at the Banterra Center on Monday in Carbondale.

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Illinois Gov. Pritzker signs criminal justice reform bill
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SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a criminal justice omnibus bill backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Monday, abolishing cash bail, overhauling police certification and reforming use-of-force standards among numerous other provisions.

Pritzker signed the legislation, House Bill 3653, referred to as the “Safe-T Act,” during an event at Chicago State University alongside members of his administration and lawmakers from the Black Caucus.

“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation, and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Pritzker said.

While the legislation received grassroots support from activists, buoyed by the growing national concern over policing following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year, the bill faced strong opposition from Republican lawmakers and law enforcement groups.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, called the signing “an insult to our first responders.”

“We live in a civilized state where our elected officials’ greatest responsibility is the health and safety of Illinois citizens… At a crucial time when we should coalesce around the good men and women of law enforcement, Governor Pritzker has turned his back on them with his signature on House Bill 3653,” Durkin said in a statement released Monday.

Opponents of the legislation have said it will result in a less safe Illinois and have criticized the process behind its development as lacking in transparency without proper input from Republican lawmakers and the public at large.

Proponents say HB 3653 will make Illinois safer by making the justice system more equitable for Black, Latino, low-income and minority communities that have been disproportionately harmed by disparate policies in sentencing, incarceration and policing.

Members of the Black Caucus have countered claims against the bill’s transparency by pointing to nine subject matter hearings held by the caucus in state Senate committees between September and November. For nearly 30 hours, lawmakers from both parties, law enforcement, judges, state’s attorneys, legal experts, representatives of the court, the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office hashed out many of the issues that became provisions in the bill, such as the abolition of cash bail by 2023 and police certification.

The office of the governor and Attorney General Kwame Raoul held working meetings over several months starting in July with representatives from both chambers and parties, Fraternal Order of Police groups, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sherriffs’ Association

The actual written legislation was introduced to the General Assembly during the five-day lame duck session in January where lawmakers attempted to pass a years-worth of laws in a legislative blitz following the disruption of the regular session by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final version of the bill was introduced after midnight on the final day of the lame-duck, where it received just enough votes to pass both chambers with less-than-an-hour of floor-debate.

Here is what HB 3653, now law, does.

Pretrial detention

Starting on Jan. 1, 2023, all bail bonds and conditions of bail will be replaced by a system of pretrial release to be developed by the Illinois courts based on a detainee’s alleged crime, their risk of not appearing for their court date, and the threat or danger they may pose to an individual or community if released. Illinois is the first state to completely abolish cash bail by statute. Washington, D.C., does not use cash bail, and New Jersey effectively eliminated cash bail in most cases in 2017.

Exceptions from pretrial release under the new law include forcible felonies such as first-degree murder, sexual assault, arson and any other felony involving the use or threat of physical force; stalking and aggravated stalking where the defendant poses a threat to the victim if released; abuse or battery of a family member where their release poses a danger to that family member; gun crimes where the defendant poses a threat to a specific, identifiable person; and cases where the defendant has committed a felony that wouldn’t otherwise result in detention but they are considered a high risk of fleeing prosecution and missing their court date.

The law would place the burden on the state to prove an individual should be detained, rather than the individual proving that they should go free. Prosecutors would submit a request for an individual’s detention, and judges would be required to put their reasoning for granting the pretrial detention.

Proponents of the bill say the new system of detention will make Illinois safer while preventing discrimination and abuse in the court system.

“Cash bond says if you are poor then you get a lower tier of safety,” Democratic Sen. Robert Peters, a sponsor of the bill and longtime activist against cash bail, said at Monday’s signing. “If you are poor and Black, you get an even lower tier of safety. If you're a poor, Black and a woman, you get an even lower tier of public safety.”

Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said Republicans would support ending cash bail using a system similar to New Jersey’s, which he called a “gold standard” that would have had “bipartisan support.”

“Detention should not be determined based on ability to pay, there’s no doubt about that,” he said in an interview Monday. “But you have to replace it with a system that provides at least the same level of public safety in pretrial services and that was not done here.”

Curran said the new system, by restricting what crimes are eligible for pretrial detention, removes discretion from judges and makes the pool of detainable offenders too narrow to keep the public safe.

The crafters of the reform bill say the narrowness of the provision is the point, and that Illinois will actually be safer for historically disadvantaged communities if judges are not able to detain individuals before their trial for minor crimes like retail theft due to the inability to pay for bail.

Use of force

House Bill 3653 establishes the intent of the General Assembly to establish statewide use-of-force standards by 2022.

It changes current standards by banning chokeholds and any actions that restrict breathing being used above the chest unless in a situation that authorizes deadly force.

Under the law, use of force is only allowed when it is necessary for the officer to defend themselves or others from bodily harm when making an arrest. When a suspect is attempting to escape arrest, officers are only authorized to use deadly force if that person is unable to be caught at a later date and is likely to harm others.

Officers must make a reasonable effort to identify themselves as law enforcement and warn suspects before they can use deadly force, with some exceptions.

Law enforcement is prohibited from using deadly force against individuals committing property crimes unless that crime is tied to terrorism or to another crime or action where deadly force is permitted.

The law also creates a duty to intervene when another officer is using excessive force, and a duty to provide medical assistance to injured persons regardless of who they are.

Police certification

Under House Bill 3653, the state will have more power over the certification and hiring of law enforcement at every agency through the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, known as ILETSB.

Before this legislation ILETSB could only decertify an officer under very narrow circumstances. They had to be convicted of a felony or a limited set of misdemeanors such as offering a bribe, prostitution or criminal sex abuse.

The new law grants ILETSB broader discretionary authority to decertify officers for unethical or unprofessional conduct that would otherwise not rise to the level of a felony. All law enforcement agencies would be required to only hire certified officers, and officers would need to recertify under the system every three years.

Critics of the legislation have claimed allowing anonymous complaints against officers is an unfair provision that will result in officers being fired for frivolous complaints.

However, proponents such as Raoul contend that the filtering system contained in the statute makes that virtually impossible. Complaints against officers must go through a preliminary review, a full investigation, an ILETSB evaluation, a formal hearing before an administrative law judge, a vote from the Illinois Law Enforcement Certification Review Panel and a final vote by ILETSB to result in decertification.

Pritzker was asked at Monday’s signing if it was unfair that criminals can have their records expunged while officers who commit misconduct have the complaint permanently tied to their file. The governor and attorney general said that was in line with every other profession that requires certification in Illinois, from medical doctors to lawyers.

Body cameras

The new law also makes body cameras mandatory for law enforcement agencies statewide. The largest departments must have body cameras in place by 2022, while all agencies, no matter how small, must have body cameras implemented by 2025.

The law does not include statutory funding for departments to comply with the law.

Republicans have referred to the unfunded mandate as especially harmful to smaller municipalities that cannot afford implementing body cameras and have said it will lead to a reduced police presence statewide.

Law enforcement by and large has expressed support for body camera usage but some groups have raised concerns about the prohibitive cost and impact on their budgets.

Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, one of the bill’s chief crafters and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called funding for body cameras “a priority” in budget talks.

“This will be an area that we will certainly be working on and talking through throughout the rest of the session,” he said.

Sims pointed out that the governor’s budget proposal includes $3.2 million for body cameras in the current fiscal year, going to a fund that already contains $2.1 million for Illinois agencies to use.

Curran estimated the annual funding needed to support body cameras statewide would be $10 million to $12 million, according to discussions with law enforcement groups.

The bill also contains numerous provisions on sentencing reform, equipment procurement for law enforcement, victim services, mental health services, officer training, prisoner and detainee rights, among others.

Supporters and opponents of the new law agreed there is a need for follow-up legislation to address unintended consequences.

“We will have these discussions on an ongoing basis,” Sims said. “I'm certainly open to more than anyone else but what I'm not going to do is undermine the substance and the intent of the law which is to create new safety, accountability and fairness and equity for all communities.”

13 parts of the criminal justice reform package Pritzker just signed

13 parts of the criminal justice reform package Pritzker just signed

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Southern Illinoisans weigh in as Pritzker signs justice reform bill
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CARBONDALE — As Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed into law a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, local legislators, city leaders and community organizers had mixed reactions.

The bill was introduced by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus last year after a summer of protests and public outcry against police violence that resulted in the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other people of color. The summer's protests put police and criminal justice reform in the spotlight nationwide, and Illinois’ crime bill passed both the House and Senate Jan. 13 during a lame duck session. Critics said the way the bill was finally passed, in the small hours of the morning Jan. 13 with little to no time for review or debate, was contrary to the spirit of democratic governance.

The new law ends the cash bail system, which is used to ensure a defendant comes to court. The law also requires every police officer in the state to be equipped with a body camera by 2025, requires every officer to be certified by the state, and establishes use-of-force regulations that ban chokeholds and restraints that inhibit breathing.

Debate over the sweeping legislation swirled in January, and there were few in Southern Illinois who came out in direct support. Local legislators and those in law enforcement argued that the elimination of cash bail especially would make Southern Illinois less safe.

Their tune hasn’t changed much in a month’s time.

“I do not support the actions taken by our Governor today to enact a law that will make it harder for police officers to do their jobs. I stand in support of my local law enforcement officers and agencies who have vocally opposed this legislation,” Sen. Dale Fowler, a Republican from Harrisburg who represents Illinois' 59th District, said in a Monday news release.

“I disagree strongly with Governor Pritzker’s irresponsible decision to move forward with signing this legislation, even though he knows there are major problems that exist in the law,” 118th District State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, said in a news release Monday.

“The changes contained in this massive law of sweeping criminal justice reforms is full of double definitions of important terms, ambiguous language, and provisions that will most certainly have a chilling effect on our ability to recruit and retain good police officers,” 117th District State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, wrote in a statement Monday.

"Now that we've had the past few weeks to truly break down the hundreds of pages contained in this proposal, it has become evident this is a law that will protect criminals, threaten our law enforcement community and endanger public safety. It's shameful,” State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, who represents the 58th District, said in a statement emailed to The Southern.

Newly-elected 115th District State Rep. Paul Jacobs, R-Pomona, also weighed in.

“We’re in a ‘blame the police, reward the criminals’ political cycle in this state. I will be working with my colleagues in the House to amend this flawed bill so police can be confident they have the tools necessary to keep the public safe,” he said in a statement issued by his office Monday.

Also new to his office, Jackson County State’s Attorney Joseph Cervantez told The Southern Monday that he takes primary issue with the way the bill was passed. He said the bill was sold as a collaborative effort, but said all but two of the state’s attorneys in Illinois were left in the dark.

“When you ignore 100 state’s attorneys who are in the trenches, that’s not leadership, that’s politics,” Cervantez said.

Not all Southern Illinoisans saw Pritzker's signature on the bill as bad for public safety. Nancy Maxwell is the Carbondale Branch NAACP criminal justice chair. She said this is just the first step toward a more just justice system.

“I think it’s great and I think it’s the beginning,” Maxwell said.

“I do think that this reform bill is long overdue, and I see it being a step in the direction to make things more just and more equitable for all,” Carbondale Branch NAACP President Linda Flowers said Monday.

Flowers said eliminating cash bail will help balance the scales.

“Right now I think the books are stacked against poor people,” Flowers said. She said the elimination of cash bail makes great strides to correct income inequality in the criminal justice system. As it stood before the new law, Flowers said those with means were able to pay their way out of jail, while the poor were resigned to staying in jail until their court date.

While the elimination of cash bail has been given top billing in the debate over the new law, the requirement that all law enforcement officers in the state wear a body camera also made waves. An unfunded mandate, the requirement has some community leaders concerned for what this could mean for future budgets.

In Carbondale, a community that has had loud public debate about the size and cost of its police department, leaders have concerns about the cost of implementing such a big program. Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said the administrative costs alone of cataloging, storing and processing information requests for the footage could be a big hurdle.

"The legislation does allow us to delay the implementation of this program until 2025 which gives us time to plan for these costs," Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams wrote in an email to The Southern Jan. 15.

Speaking with The Southern Monday, Williams said the city was about to begin budget discussions but did not think the city would immediately make any significant budget changes to prepare for the future expense of using and maintaining a body cam program.

Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens said his city will review budgets as the law is implemented and make changes where they're needed.

“While some provisions of this bill are commendable, it is my opinion that this bill undermines the ability of communities to keep their residents safe,” Stephens wrote in a statement to The Southern. As to how this might impact future budget years, Stephens said that will be determined as the bill is rolled out.

“The city will review our budgets as the various parts of the bill are implemented, and make adjustments as needed,” he wrote.

US tops 500,000 virus deaths
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The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday, a staggering number that all but matches the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.

President Joe Biden held a sunset moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House and ordered American flags lowered at federal buildings for the next five days.

“We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” Biden said. "We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur.”

Monday’s grim milestone, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, comes as states redouble efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine into arms after last week’s winter weather closed clinics, slowed vaccine deliveries and forced tens of thousands of people to miss their shots.

Despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.

The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million coronavirus deaths globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly higher, in part because many cases were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 deaths. The toll hit 200,000 in September and 300,000 in December, then took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and another month to climb from 400,000 to 500,000.

Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day.

But experts warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. And some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.

Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky, who has treated scores of COVID-19 patients, said he never thought the U.S. deaths would be so high.

“I was one of those early ones that thought this may be something that may hit us for a couple months … I definitely thought we would be done with it before we got into the fall. And I definitely didn’t see it heading off into 2021,” Stanton said.

Kristy Sourk, an intensive-care nurse at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, said she is encouraged by the declining caseload and progress in vaccinating people, but “I know we are so far from over.”

People "are still dying, and families are still isolated from their loved ones who are unable to be with them so that is still pretty heart-wrenching,” she said.

Snow, ice and weather-related power outages closed some vaccination sites and held up shipments across a large swath of the nation, including in the Deep South.

As a result, the seven-day rolling average of administered first doses fell by 20 percent between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House said that about a third of the roughly 6 million vaccine doses delayed by bad weather were delivered over the weekend, with the rest expected to be delivered by mid-week, several days earlier than originally expected. White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt on Monday attributed the improved timeline to an “all-out, round-the-clock” effort over the weekend that included employees at one vaccine distributor working night shifts to pack vaccines.

In Louisiana, state health officials said some doses from last week’s shipments were delivered over the weekend and were expected to continue arriving through Wednesday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week’s supply arrived Monday. And in Nashville, Tennessee, health officials were able to vaccinate more than 2,300 senior citizens and teachers over the weekend after days of treacherous weather.

“We’ll be asking the vaccine providers to do a lot,” said Louisiana’s top public health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter, who expects it to take a week or two to catch up on vaccinations after a storm coated roads with ice and left many areas without running water.

Some hospitals, clinics, community sites and pharmacies that are in Louisiana’s vaccination network will get double allocations of doses this week — just as Gov. John Bel Edwards starts offering shots to teachers, daycare workers, pregnant women and people age 55 to 64 with certain preexisting conditions.

New York City officials expected to catch up on vaccinations after being forced to delay scheduling tens of thousands of appointments last week, the mayor said Monday.

“That means we’ve basically lost a full week in our vaccination efforts,” DeBlasio said.

More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and about 1.6 million per day received either first or second dose over the past seven days, according to the CDC.

The nation's supply could expand significantly if health regulators approve a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

The company said it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses by the end of March if it gets the green light, and would have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June.

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SIC cuts degrees, staff during February meeting
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HARRISBURG — The Southeastern Illinois College Board of Trustees voted at its regular meeting last week to eliminate several degrees, inactivate the art program and lay off three staff members.

During the board's regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 16, the college's president cited low enrollment in the degree programs that were eliminated, as well as an expected 25% decline in the college's total enrollment next year, along with a projected budget deficit of $6 million over the next two years.

The board unanimously approved inactivation of all art courses and eliminated the Business Management AAS, Administrative Assistant AAS, Word Processing Certificate, Accounting Certificate, Business Management Certificate, Associates in Fine Arts (AFA) and AFA in Musical Theatre.

During a discussion on personnel, the board approved layoffs of an academic resource specialist, a business instructor and art instructor. The layoffs are effective at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year.

During the public comment period at the beginning of the Feb. 16 meeting, SIC art instructor Sara DeNeal — whose position the board voted to eliminate — presented a petition that she and her students put together. The petition was signed by 1,067 people, including alumni, who support the art program at the college.

She asked the board to consider the mission and vision of the college. Its mission is to enhance lifelong learning by providing quality accessible educational programs, cultural enrichment opportunities, and support for economic development; and its vision is to be the catalyst for academic excellence, community service, and economic growth in the community.

DeNeal talked about the importance of imagination and problem-solving in the workplace today and said art helps teach students those skills.

“SIC needs a visual arts program,” DeNeal said.

Janean Bond, an alumna and part-time employee of SIC, asked why the board chose to freeze tuition in January with the projected deficits in the college’s budget. SIC, at $106 per hour, has one of the lowest tuition rates in the state, she said. She said tuition could be raised to $109 per hour and still be below other community colleges in the region.

Bond also questioned the board on its practice of approving reductions in force for instructional positions, then hiring administrative personnel at the same meeting.

Dr. Jonah Rice, president of SIC, told the board that two positions in administration were being frozen and the public information officer would not be replaced.

“If you want a story in the paper, you’ll probably have to write it yourself,” he said.

Rice said community colleges have not been fully funded for decades. In 1995, about 60% of SIC’s budget was provided by the state. Currently, about 35% of the college’s funding comes from the state.

The college also faces an additional $1 million in costs, before adding any of the costs from the pandemic.

“Over a 48-month period, we expect to be $6 million in the hole,” Rice said. “Next year will be worse.”

Rice said they also expect to see about a 25% decrease in student enrollment.

To put things into perspective, Rice said, tennis player Roger Federer made $106 million in 2020. That amount would fund SIC for 35 years without state funding.

The board reviewed the enrollment numbers for courses being cut. For example, Painting 1 has five students this year, and had two in 2020, seven in 2018 and 2016, and five in 2014. Painting 2, the second-year class, has one student this year, and had two in 2020, three in 2018, four in 2016 and two in 2014.

The business degrees only had five students enrolled in five degree and certificate courses in fiscal year 2020. The business classes required to transfer to a four-year program will remain.

DeNeal said a large rally had been planned to support the art and business programs, but the frigid temperatures and several inches of snow that hit Southern Illinois last week deterred many who planned to participate. Classes and all activities were canceled for the college on Tuesday. The board meeting was the only college activity that was conducted as planned.

The board’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. March 16 in the Heritage Room on the SIC campus.