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Illinois House Democrats wrangle over Madigan’s future behind closed doors as criminal justice overhaul dominates public debate

Illinois House Democrats wrangle over Madigan’s future behind closed doors as criminal justice overhaul dominates public debate

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With less than three days to shore up the votes needed to claim another term as House speaker, Michael Madigan on Sunday was confronted with the reality that he lacks support from nearly a third of his 73-member Democratic caucus.

In the first closed-door ballot cast by divided House Democrats, Madigan received 51 votes, sources said, short of the 60 he needs to lengthen a tenure as speaker that stretches back to 1983, save two years of Republican control in the mid-1990s.

Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago has rallied the most support of Madigan’s challengers, garnering 18 votes in the first ballot on Sunday, according to sources. Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego received three votes and one member voted present.

Just before voting began, Rep. Kathleen Willis, of Addison, a member of Madigan’s leadership team, dropped out and threw her support behind Williams.

Earlier Sunday, the 19 House Democrats who have publicly opposed Madigan hardened their opposition and pledged to stay united, issuing a statement declaring they will not support Madigan “at any stage of the voting process.”

“It is time for new Democratic leadership in the Illinois House,” the 19 lawmakers said in a statement.

Illinois Legislature

In this July 26, 2017, file photo, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Springfield, Ill. 

The path forward remains unclear ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration of the new General Assembly and public vote for the next speaker. House Democrats are expected to reconvene privately Monday to continue deliberating.

Madigan, whose backing includes the majority of the powerful 22-member House Black Caucus, began to see some of his support peel away this summer after he was implicated in a bribery scheme.

In July, Commonwealth Edison agreed to pay a $200 million fine and acknowledged its role in the scheme aimed at currying favor with Madigan by offering jobs and contracts to his allies in exchange for favorable legislation.

Madigan has not been charged with anything, and he has denied wrongdoing and knowledge of the scheme.

The speaker made his pledge to help the Black Caucus pass its ambitious, wide-ranging social justice agenda a cornerstone of his bid to retain power.

The caucus’ controversial criminal justice overhaul legislation continued to dominate public discussion in the House on Sunday.

Rep. Justin Slaughter, a Chicago Democrat who’s sponsoring the package, responded to criticism from police groups and other opponents that the proposals would “end policing as we know it.”

“The Black community is quite OK with taking a different direction in regard to policing,” Slaughter said. “This is a passionate belief and perspective, I think, that comes with loved ones and friends and family being victims of police brutality, victims of police-involved shootings.”

As expected, law enforcement groups and police unions continued pushing back on many of the bill’s provisions, including measures that would remove protections against officers sued for alleged civil rights violations and prohibit discipline and dismissal procedures from being subject to contract negotiations.

But organizations representing police chiefs and sheriffs across the state showed some openness to another provision in the package, expanding the use of body cameras by officers — if the state can find a way to help agencies pay for the equipment.

Sen. Elgie Sims, one of the bill’s sponsors, said law enforcement groups have offered proposals for changes they could support on training requirements and other elements. But on some of the more controversial parts of the legislation, “there have not been concrete proposals,” Sims said during a Sunday morning news conference.

“I asked, during our last meeting, no less than five separate times, for changes, because many in law enforcement have specifically talked about the qualified immunity elimination as their issue,” Sims said. “What’s your proposed solution on the other side? As I said to them and I say now, the perspective to do nothing and to just say no, is not an option.”

House Democrats also accused law enforcement groups of spreading misinformation about the proposals, citing a Facebook post from the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association that labels the legislation the “defund the police bill.” The post falsely claims that the bill “completely eliminates felony murder immediately” and makes other misleading claims, lawmakers said.

Rep. Kam Buckner of Chicago called the post “a sensational hit piece,” and Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville, who is white, asked Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle, testifying Sunday on behalf of the sheriffs association, to have it removed. VanVickle said he would discuss the matter with the organization’s staff.

Republicans on the committee joined law enforcement in opposing the legislation or calling for more time to consider it.

Outgoing Rep. John Cabello of Machesney Park, a Rockford police detective who in November lost his bid for a fifth full term, said the bill is “disrespecting the memories of the officers that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

“What we’re saying here is, ‘We are going to disrespect the men and women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line every single day for you and I and our families,’” Cabello said. ‘Yet we’re going to sit there and tell them, ‘We don’t appreciate you anymore. We are going to actually make you the criminals.’”

Responding to calls for more time to consider the proposals, supporters said the recent outcry over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans at the hands of police demands immediate action.

“We’re not here, as somebody said, to disrespect the memories of officers who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Peter Hanna, a legal adviser with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “Quite the contrary. We’re here because our minds are overflowing with the names and faces of people and families whose lives have been destroyed unfairly and unconstitutionally and unaccountably by police.

“This is the moment to implement real and overdue changes to policing,” added Hanna, who testified largely in support of the bill and offered suggestions for strengthening provision on the use of force by officers.

Debate over the criminal justice proposals spilled over into other issues on the House floor.

When Rep. Jay Hoffman of Swansea asked for a vote in favor of a bill extending coronavirus-related workers’ compensation benefits and noted that it was the product of an agreement among Democrats, Republicans, business interests and organized labor, Rep. Curtis Tarver of Chicago objected.

Tarver said that some of the supporters of the workers’ compensation bill, including the Illinois AFL-CIO and Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge, are opposing the Black Caucus’ criminal justice proposal. He accused those groups of “actively permeating false information” about the legislation.

“If Democrats and manufacturers and Realtors and everybody can get together and have an agreed bill, you should find a way to support the criminal justice pillar for Black people,” Tarver said.

Hoffman called off the vote on the bill.

Earlier, Rep. La Shawn Ford of Chicago was making a plea for lawmakers of both parties to support the Black Caucus agenda when he was interrupted by a medical emergency on the floor of the Bank of Springfield Center.

A short time later, paramedics wheeled Republican Rep. Darren Bailey of Xenia out on a stretcher.

House GOP leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said Bailey passed out and hit his head after not having eaten Sunday due to ongoing digestive issues.

“He’s going to be fine,” Durkin said. “He’s just going to rest up. Nothing more than that.”

Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson contributed.


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A 611-page amendment to House Bill 163 would heavily revamp use-of-force guidelines, mandate body cameras for every law enforcement agency, end cash bail, remove some qualified immunity protections, and strip collective bargaining rights relating to discipline from police unions.

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