CAPITOL RECAP: Advocates push back against proposed SAFE-T Act changes

CAPITOL RECAP: Advocates push back against proposed SAFE-T Act changes

SPRINGFIELD – Domestic and sexual violence victim advocates joined the SAFE-T Act’s chief House sponsor and others Tuesday, Oct. 18, to oppose a bill that Gov. JB Pritzker has called a good launching point for discussions on follow-up legislation to the criminal justice reform.

“We stand here in solidarity with all of the survivor organizations as we push forward with the Pretrial Fairness Act and denounce these provisions that we’re seeing in the Senate bill that are rolling back the safeguards and protections for survivors that we have fought so very hard for,” state Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, said at a news conference.

He was referring to Senate Bill 4228, a follow-up up bill sponsored by state Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, who voted for the original SAFE-T Act and said he still favors implementing a system in which cash plays no role in whether an individual is released from custody while awaiting trial.

Bennett, in a phone call last month shortly after he filed the legislation, said he’s open to negotiations, but he filed it to clarify what he believed is the intent of the original legislation.

That includes changes to the detainability standards laid out in the system that will replace cash bail.

In the SAFE-T Act as it stands, judges will consider each individual’s circumstances and can deny pretrial release if the offender is accused of certain offenses and is deemed a danger to the community, or if the person is a risk of “willful flight” from prosecution. All individuals are also detainable, regardless of the offense, if they commit a crime while already out on pretrial release.

The law also created a presumption in favor of release for individuals who have committed a Class B or C misdemeanor or other petty or traffic offense.

Bennett said while much of the current conversation regarding “non-detainable” offenses stems from “misstatements on the right,” he filed the bill to erase any potential doubt.

The advocacy groups criticized a specific provision in Bennett’s bill that would widen judicial authority to detain a defendant charged with any crime if the court believes they are a serious risk of skipping trial, pose a danger to the community, or are likely to threaten a potential witness or juror.

They also faulted SB 4228 for removing language creating a “presumption in favor of release,” saying it instead creates an unconstitutional presumption in favor of detention.

The original SAFE-T Act was designed to make initial detention hearings more robust than current bail hearings, which typically occur within 72 hours of arrest, last fewer than five minutes and end in a judge deciding conditions of release, including how much money, if any, the defendant must post.

The new process will allow a prosecutor to petition for pretrial detention and a defendant can have a public defender present at detention hearings.

The advocacy groups said the presumption in favor of pretrial release for lower-level offenses in the original SAFE-T Act was designed to free court resources to spend more time in cases where violence was involved or was likely to be involved.

The advocacy groups said another concern is the removal of a requirement that state’s attorneys notify victims of upcoming detention hearings. They said the requirement is needed to ensure victims don’t slip through the cracks when it comes to the administration of justice.

Another change contained in Bennett’s bill is a provision to ensure that the end of cash bail does not apply to individuals who were held in lieu of bail prior to Jan. 1, 2023.

LAWSUITS: The wide-ranging criminal justice reform law is also the subject of a growing list of lawsuits from dozens of prosecutors and sheriffs throughout the state who are looking to halt the cashless bail rollout.

Most of those complaints center on the legislative process of approving the bill, a process in which Illinois courts have historically not been willing to interfere. Another legal argument centers on a provision in the constitution regarding bailable offenses. The lawsuits from across the state were expected to be consolidated as the courts consider granting a preliminary injunction.

* * *

MADIGAN PROBE: The federal case against former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan widened Friday after new charges were filed against him and his longtime ally, Michael McClain, alleging they conspired to accept a bribe from AT&T Illinois in exchange for favorable legislation.

Prosecutors also announced that the company had admitted to using interstate commerce to facilitate passage of legislation and entered a deferred prosecution agreement while agreeing to pay a $23 million fine. The company’s former president, Paul La Schiazza, 65, also faces charges for conspiring to influence Madigan.

The latest indictments stem from legislation that AT&T pushed in 2017 known as a “carrier of last resort,” or COLR bill. The charges allege that the phone company paid $22,500 to a Madigan ally in exchange for efforts by Madigan and McClain to pass the bill. The payment was allegedly made through an intermediary to conceal its true purpose.

A spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board, which opposed the bill, said in an email that the law relieves AT&T from its prior duty to offer land line service to any customer within their service territory, once it receives approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

The bill passed the General Assembly twice in different forms. Both were vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, but in July 2017 the General Assembly overrode the second veto and the bill became law.

La Schiazza has been charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of corruptly giving something of value to reward a public official, and three counts of using a facility in interstate commerce to promote unlawful activity, including bribery and legislative misconduct, which are violations of state law. Arraignment in federal court in Chicago has not yet been scheduled.

“We hold ourselves and our contractors to the highest ethical standards. We are committed to ensuring that this never happens again,” an AT&T spokesman said in a statement.

Madigan, 80, reigned over the Illinois House for all but two years between 1983 and 2021 and was considered by many to be the state’s most powerful politician. He also chaired the Democratic Party of Illinois from 1998 to 2021 but resigned that position amid the corruption scandal as well.

But he lost his leadership role in 2021 after he was implicated in a bribery scheme involving electric utility giant Commonwealth Edison. He was eventually indicted earlier this year on multiple corruption charges related to that scheme and is still awaiting trial.

The latest charges come less than four weeks before the 2022 midterm elections in which the entire General Assembly and all statewide elected officials are on the ballot.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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