CAPITOL RECAP: Lawmakers urged to pass high-powered weapon ban, but opponents promise legal challenge

CAPITOL RECAP: Lawmakers urged to pass high-powered weapon ban, but opponents promise legal challenge

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – Some of the state’s leading law enforcement officials on Tuesday, Dec. 20, urged lawmakers to pass a statewide ban on high-power, high-capacity weapons, which they say are growing in prevalence in Illinois.

“What the public asks members of the law enforcement community to do each and every day is stunning, knowing full well that the cars we’re approaching, the houses we’re entering, have some of the most lethal weapons you’ve ever seen, ever. And they keep getting worse,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee during a third hearing on proposed legislation.

The committee is considering House Bill 5855, a proposal by Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield. It would ban the possession and sale of a long list of firearms that would be defined as “assault weapons” as well as high-capacity magazines and devices that make a semi-automatic gun fire like a fully automatic weapon.

It would also delete a provision in current law that allows people between the ages of 18 and 21 to obtain a Firearm Owner’s Identification, or FOID card, with the consent of their parent or guardian, effectively establishing a firm minimum age of 21. It would also require hunters younger than 21 to be under the supervision of an adult with a valid FOID card.

The bill was prompted in large part by a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park earlier this year that left seven people dead and dozens more injured. The alleged gunman in that shooting used a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 semi-automatic rifle and three magazines containing 30 rounds of ammunition each.

“These weapons have entered our schools, our places of worship, our theaters, our parades and our peaceful community spaces with one objective – to create mass carnage,” said Elena Gottreich, Chicago’s deputy mayor for public safety. “Assault weapons are designed to inflict maximum tissue damage in the shortest amount of time.”

So far, the proposed legislation has received broad support from gun safety advocacy organizations as well as elected public officials, including Secretary of State Jesse White. But it faces strong opposition from gun rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association and the Illinois State Rifle Association, which argued the bill would likely be ruled unconstitutional.

“I’m here to tell you that the gun owners are tired of being blamed for every madman, every criminal, and every other depraved act that 2.5 million gun owners didn’t do,” former NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said Tuesday. “And we’re not here to negotiate. I’m here to tell you that if House Bill 5855 or anything remotely like it passes, we will see you in court.”

Valinda Rowe, a spokeswoman for the gun rights advocacy group Illinois Carry, also said the law, if enacted, would be challenged in court and likely overturned, and she urged lawmakers to focus on the root causes of violent crime.

“The focus to address the problems that have been brought up today – and they are horrendous problems, there’s no doubt – but the focus going forward … must be on the violent criminals and on the mentally ill who pose a danger to themselves and others, not on law abiding citizens and lawfully owned and possessed purchased firearms,” she said.

But the committee also heard from survivors and witnesses of other notorious mass shootings.

Po Murray, president of the Newtown Action Alliance, said her children were attending Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 when a gunman armed with an AR-15-style rifle and high-capacity magazines killed 20 children and six educators.

“Our town became unrecognizable,” she said. “We were shocked by what happened in our community. But instantly we knew that if our town could turn into a war zone due to an AR-15 that it could happen anywhere. Therefore, we sprung into action to send a strong message to all Americans that no one is safe as long as Americans can legally obtain assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the third such hearing the committee has held since the bill was introduced Dec. 1, and committee Chairman Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, said there will be further hearings when lawmakers return to Springfield in January. The committee could take action on the bill during an upcoming lame duck session scheduled to begin Jan. 4.

* * *

EMERGENCY HOUSING: For Illinois’ homeless populations and those that serve them, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a crisis – the volunteer, mostly faith-based shelters that had long been the backbone of the state’s emergency housing system were closing their doors.

But with the crisis – and a sudden influx of temporary federal, state and philanthropic funding – came an opportunity to move away from an already-stressed emergency housing system to what advocates say is a more dignified and effective one.

Those same advocates, however, say the new system, largely based on using government vouchers to fund private hotel rooms, is on the edge of a fiscal cliff as federal COVID-19 response funding dries up.

It’s a pressing issue, more than 220 housing advocacy organizations wrote to Gov. JB Pritzker this week, because Illinois is already about 4,500 beds short of the 11,300 it needs to accommodate all individuals seeking shelter on a given night, according to a recent report to a state homelessness task force.

“Without a significant increase in state funding, the severe shelter shortage will worsen,” the advocates wrote in the letter dated Dec. 21, coinciding with the first day of winter. “(Illinois Shelter Alliance) members estimate that at least 1,600 existing shelter beds could be lost during 2023 due to federal COVD-19 relief funds, mostly being spent on hotel vouchers, being fully expended.”

The Illinois Shelter Alliance is a coalition of more than 50 emergency and transitional housing organizations from throughout Illinois that have organized to push for increased state emergency housing investment.

The ask for the upcoming fiscal year which begins July 1 is a $51 million, six-fold increase to a long-stagnant emergency housing line item to sustain the new system and create a bridge to a more permanent one.
It’s increasingly important, the letter noted, as Alliance members reported up to 76 percent of the churches and other facilities that have provided congregate shelters previously are unable or unwilling to resume doing so due to closures, declining membership and COVID-19 concerns.

* * *

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE: For most people who work a minimum wage job, the new year will bring a pay raise to $13 per hour, a $1 increase over the current wage. That’s the result of a law Gov. JB Pritzker signed in 2019, his first major legislative victory after being sworn into office a month earlier. The law will eventually raise the wage to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2025.

The new $13 hourly rate does not apply to all minimum wage earners. People who receive tips at work will see their base wage rise to $7.80 an hour. And people younger than 18 who work fewer than 650 hours per year will see their wage go up to $10.50 an hour.

The higher wage will probably come as welcome news for those who drive a car to and from work. That’s because the new year will also bring higher motor fuel taxes.

The same year Pritzker signed the minimum wage bill, he also signed a multi-year, $45 billion transportation and capital improvements bill known as “Rebuild Illinois,” which is funded in part with higher motor fuel taxes that are scheduled to increase with inflation each year.

The adjustment in the tax rate is supposed to take effect on July 1 of each year, the first day of the state’s fiscal year. But last spring, in the face of rising inflation and healthy state revenues, lawmakers authorized a six-month delay in the scheduled increase, putting it off until Jan. 1.

As a result, starting Jan. 1, the motor fuel tax people pay at the pump will go up 3.1 cents per gallon, and then it will increase again when the next regular adjustment date comes around on July 1, 2023.

* * *

CRIMINAL LAW CHANGES: Several new criminal laws will go into effect Jan. 1, including three that deal with sex offenses.

One of those prevents people who solicit sex from a minor or a person with a severe or profound intellectual disability from asserting a defense that they simply did not know the person was underage or intellectually disabled. House Bill 4593, signed into law May 27, puts the burden of proof on the defendant that they did not know the age or disability status of the other person, rather than the other way around.

Another new law changes the definition of when a person is “unable to give knowing consent.” Under current law, a person cannot give knowing consent when the accused person “administers any intoxicating or anesthetic substance or any controlled substance” that causes the victim to lose consciousness of the nature of the act.

House Bill 5441, signed June 16, broadens that definition to include when the victim has taken any intoxicating or controlled substance causing them to lose consciousness of the nature of the act, even if the substances were administered by someone else.

Another bill expands certain employment restrictions that apply to convicted child sex offenders. Currently, they are prohibited from being employed by, or even being present at, child day care centers, schools that provide before- and after-school programs for children or any facility that provides programs or services exclusively for people under age 18.

Senate Bill 3019, signed May 27, expands that to prohibit convicted child sex offenders from working at carnivals, amusement enterprises, county fairs and the State Fair when people under age 18 are present.

Another new law expands the list of professionals who are required to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Starting Jan. 1, under Senate Bill 3833, signed May 13, occupational therapists, occupational therapist assistants, physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and athletic trainers will be added to that list.

* * *

EDUCATION CHANGES: To address a shortage of substitute teachers throughout the state, House Bill 4798, signed April 27, allows students enrolled in approved teacher training programs who have earned at least 90 credit hours to obtain a substitute teaching license. Before, applicants had to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institution of higher education.

House Bill 4716, signed May 27, calls on the Illinois State Board of Education to adopt “rigorous learning standards” for classroom and laboratory phases of driver education programs for novice teen drivers. Those will include, at a minimum, the Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards developed by the Association of National Stakeholders in Traffic Safety Education in association with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Both laws go into effect Jan. 1.

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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