CAPITOL RECAP: Democrats maintain control in Illinois

CAPITOL RECAP: Democrats maintain control in Illinois

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – As votes continued to be tallied this week, returns showed Illinois Democrats would hold every statewide elected office and maintain supermajorities in the General Assembly while extending their majority on the Illinois Supreme Court.

After a fiery election night speech in which Gov. JB Pritzker excoriated the Republican Party as “unwilling to expel the extremists in their midst,” he gave an upbeat news conference about his plans for a second term Wednesday at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago that was the site of his election night party the day prior.

“The election yesterday was a chance for Illinoisans to decide who we want to be,” Pritzker said, citing his administration’s acceptance of asylum seekers, support for mental health and substance use treatment, protection of women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights, and renewable energy policies.

“Well, Illinoisans made their decision – a decision that we should be a beacon of hope and opportunity and caring,” he added.

On Wednesday, he again denied any interest in a 2024 presidential run and said he planned to serve his four-year term as governor.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Pritzker’s second-term task will be made easier by the success of Democrats in the General Assembly.

In the Senate, it appeared Republicans would gain at least two seats, decreasing the Democratic supermajority from 41 members to 38-20, with at least one race too close to call.

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, celebrated the wins but lamented that they were gained through a “rigged system,” a reference to Democrats’ recent redrawing of district lines to maximize their chances of maintaining their majorities.

As of Wednesday, Democrats appeared poised to extend their supermajority from 73 of the 118 members of the House of Representatives to 77, with a few races too close to call.

LEADERSHIP SHAKEUP: The lack of success in the House prompted a Wednesday morning announcement from Rep. Jim Durkin, the Western Springs Republican who has served as House minority leader since 2013, that he would not seek another term leading the House Republicans.

Two of Durkin’s top lieutenants – Reps. Dan Brady, of Normal, and Tom Demmer, of Dixon – will also be leaving the General Assembly after unsuccessful bids at statewide office. At least five others from his leadership team had either chosen not to seek another term or lost primary or general elections.

SUPREME COURT: Republicans had viewed taking the state Supreme Court as their best bet at enacting redistricting reform for future elections, but the two seats that were up for vote Tuesday both went to Democrats.

Judge Elizabeth Rochford defeated former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran in the 2nd District by nearly nine percentage points. Judge Mary Kay O’Brien, in the 3rd District, edged out Republican incumbent Michael Burke.

That would put the court majority at 5-2 in favor of Democrats and would create the first majority-woman court, also by a 5-2 margin.

STATEWIDE OFFICES: As for other races, the Democrats maintained the offices of comptroller, treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state. Each of the Democrats – incumbents Susana Mendoza, Michael Frerichs and Kwame Raoul and newcomer Alexi Giannoulias – were leading by double digits or near double digits as of Friday.

AMENDMENT 1: A constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to collectively bargain in Illinois was too early to call Friday due to the complex nature of passing an amendment.

It had about 58 percent of the vote with 95 percent of precincts reporting, which is short of the three-fifths needed for passage. But an amendment can also pass if supported by more than half of those voting in the election, so the threshold needed is likely to be lower than 60 percent.

It was unclear what the final threshold and vote tallies would be, as the Illinois State Board of Elections is set to certify results on Dec. 5.

* * *

CODE OF SILENCE: In the latest installment of an investigative series into the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna, Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises and Propublica obtained a new report confirming a “code of silence” previously reported by the news organizations.

The report by the Illinois Department of Human Services Office of the Inspector General said that the “widespread attempted cover-up” around a brutal assault of a patient pointed to a deeply entrenched “code of silence” among some workers.

The OIG report comes after a series of stories by Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises Midwest and ProPublica revealing a culture of patient abuse and cover-ups at the state-run facility in rural southern Illinois that serves people with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses or a combination of disorders.

The news organizations’ reports detailed the beating of Blaine Reichard in December 2014 and attempts by staff to conceal the abuse; the series also showed how workers accused of abuse allegations seldom face serious consequences for their actions.

The OIG report, which comes nearly eight years after the attack on Reichard, echoed many of the news organizations’ findings and called on IDHS to do more to protect patients’ safety. The news organizations had sought the report when it was finalized in September under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but the request was denied until this month.

Among the most egregious violations, the OIG’s investigation found that mental health technician Mark Allen held Reichard in a chokehold and punched him repeatedly in the face after the two argued, leaving the patient with two black eyes, a busted lip and bruising to his face and upper body.

The OIG additionally cited five mental health technicians for neglect after they witnessed the abuse but didn’t seek medical care for the patient or report the abuse to authorities.

Read the latest installment of the investigative series here.

* * *

CASH BAIL’S END: While a new law overhauling Illinois’ system of pretrial detention continues to face scrutiny ahead of its Jan. 1 implementation date, new research suggests that the old cash-based system “results in much less pretrial detention than is generally assumed.”

That’s according to the Loyola University of Chicago Center for Criminal Justice, which has been measuring the potential effects of the provision commonly referred to as the Pretrial Fairness Act, which will abolish cash bail come Jan. 1.

“What we’ve found is that, while it’s true that many people are jailed under the current cash bail system, most jail stays are brief,” researchers wrote in an Oct. 26 brief that examined data from six counties. “Most people pass through jails, being held for relatively short periods before bonding out — and that includes people charged with the kinds of serious offenses that are designated ‘detainable’ under the PFA.”

David Olson, a Loyola professor and Center co-director, spoke to Capitol News Illinois for an episode of the Capitol Cast podcast.

The PFA, passed in 2021 as part of the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform, will end the wealth-based system that decides whether an individual is released from custody while they await trial.

It replaces it with one that allows judges greater authority to detain individuals who are accused of violent crimes and deemed a danger to the community or a risk of fleeing prosecution. But the new system also limits judicial discretion when it comes to lesser, non-violent offenses.

Under current law, bail hearings typically occur within 72 hours of arrest and last fewer than five minutes. Prosecutors detail the defendant’s charges and may recommend a bail amount. The judge then decides the conditions of their release, including how much money, if any, the defendant must post before their release.

The new process will allow a prosecutor to petition the court for pretrial detention and a defendant is given the right to legal representation at their first hearing, with the detention hearing typically taking place within 24 or 48 hours of the first appearance in court.

Olson said the research can’t predict whether more or fewer people will be jailed while awaiting trial once the PFA takes effect, but the makeup of jail populations is likely to change. It’s likely, researchers found, that lower-level defendants will spend less time in jail, while stays may get longer for those accused of violent crime because they can no longer free themselves on bail.

One study estimated that a judge would not have been able to detain the defendant in 56 percent of arrests that occurred statewide in 2020 and 2021 had the PFA been in place.

But another analysis showed only 19 percent of individuals with pending felony cases were in jail custody while awaiting trial on average from 2017 through 2019, with another 17 percent on electronic monitoring or pretrial supervision.

That means about 64 percent of individuals awaiting trial for felony charges over that timespan were living in the community without any sort of supervision, the study found.

A full story and podcast on the Center’s research can be found here.

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

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