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Illinois General Assembly approves sweeping criminal justice overhaul that would end cash bail, require cops to wear body cameras
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Illinois General Assembly approves sweeping criminal justice overhaul that would end cash bail, require cops to wear body cameras

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The Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday approved a sweeping overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system that would end cash bail and eventually require every police officer in the state to be equipped with a body camera.

The measure was approved just before 5 a.m. in the Senate, and the House voted in favor with less than an hour to go before the scheduled noon inauguration of the new General Assembly.

The legislation, one component of the Legislative Black Caucus’ wide-ranging social justice agenda, must still be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker before becoming law.

The bill was the focus of strong opposition from law enforcement groups and labor unions in the opening days of the legislature’s five-day lame-duck session.

The final package approved by the Senate eliminated some of the more controversial measures, including a provision removing protections for police officers in lawsuits alleging civil rights violations, and one that would withhold state funds from municipalities that fail to comply with body camera requirements.

The package incorporates a proposal from Attorney General Kwame Raoul that would create a more robust system for decertifying officers who engage in misconduct.

The changes weren’t enough to satisfy opponents in law enforcement.

“In the dark of night Illinois legislators made Illinois less safe,” the Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition said in a statement after the Senate’s early morning vote.

Senate Republicans were unified in opposition, among other things raising objections to receiving a new version of the bill that ran more than 700 pages about an hour before it came to the floor for debate.

GOP Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington argued that prohibiting the use of cash bail could lead to situations where individuals commit crimes while awaiting trial.

“The risk exists that individuals will be released back into the community when, in fact, they have a propensity to commit more crimes, thereby making our communities less safe,” Barickman said.

Supporters argue that judges will have the discretion to order that people be held if they pose a risk.

Sen. Robert Peters, a Chicago Democrat, likened Republican speeches opposing the bill to a game of “fearmongering bingo.”

“I urge my colleagues, in 2021, to help me win real safety and justice in my community,” said Peters, who represents a swath of the South Side.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Elgie Sims of Chicago, criticized Republicans for talking about gun violence in the city while traditionally opposing gun laws he contended would help reduce violent crime.

Sims said his bill would help reduce crime by “fundamentally changing the way we do criminal justice in this state.

“It is bold,” Sims said. “It is transformational.”

In the House, the measures passed with the bare minimum 60 votes needed to pass.

The House sponsor, Democratic Rep. Justin Slaughter of Chicago, pushed back against critics who said the legislation was being rushed.

“It’s time to go from protest to progress,” Slaughter said. “Criminal justice reform cannot wait.”

The Senate also passed the components of the Black Caucus’ economic agenda, including measures that aim to prevent employers from discriminating against people with criminal records, expand access to state contracts for minority-owned businesses, women and people with disabilities, and clamp down on payday loans.

Earlier, both chambers passed the Black Caucus’ education agenda, which includes the creation of a standardized assessment for children entering kindergarten that measures literacy, language, mathematics, and social and emotional development, and also aims to expand access to computer science courses.


Photos: The career of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

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