Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. December 3, 2022.

Editorial: SAFE-T Act revisions move in the right direction but still leave uncomfortable questions

No one could realistically have expected that modifications considered and ultimately approved for the controversial SAFE-T Act would satisfy all the law’s critics, and they didn’t. Is it enough to say that many opponents acknowledge that the new version is at least an improvement?

The amended bill passed Thursday by overwhelming majorities -- 38-17 in the Senate and 71-40 in the House -- but the numbers are a bit misleading because Democrats dominate the General Assembly so formidably. Not a single Republican voted for the law in either chamber, and many grumbled, while admitting that the new version is better than the original, that their party was excluded from discussions about the changes.

But it is not true that critics had no influence at all. Many of the changes clearly aim to respond to fears raised during the fall election campaign, and state’s attorneys and other law enforcement representatives did participate in the monthslong negotiations on amendments. Considering that 100 of 102 Illinois county state’s attorneys had opposed the original version, the fact that many of them, along with other previous opponents, officially altered their position to “neutral” seems to be worth something.

Though, as state Sen. Don DeWitte, a St. Charles Republican, indicated in a statement, “something” is hardly a ringing endorsement of the law.

”(Key stakeholders) recognize the remaining shortcomings of this massive rewrite of our state’s criminal code,” DeWitte said. “Democrats are kidding themselves to suggest these neutral agency positions suggest support for the ongoing erosion of public safety across our state.”

Whether the bill represents an erosion of protections or, as supporters contend, actually makes the state more safe is the key factor that remains to be seen.

It’s important that the amended bill provides judges greater latitude in determining whether certain defendants should be detained before trial, clarifies the crimes and circumstances for which suspects can be held and gives police better instructions and more options when arresting crime suspects. The question keeps coming back to whether such tweaks will be enough.

Opponents of money bail make a compelling case about the inequalities inherent in a system that can require one suspect to be jailed and another facing the same charges freed simply because the latter can afford it. But they still have not made such a convincing case that the remedies encoded in the SAFE-T Act won’t lead to other problems.

“We’ve created a detention net -- that detention net still has holes,” Rep. Patrick Windhorst, a Metropolis Republican and former prosecutor, said of the new law. “And what that means is we’ll see those holes in the detention net and we’ll be back in a year to try to patch the hole, and then we’ll find another hole.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

That’s far from the analysis we wish lawmakers had left us with regarding a subject so important as public safety, so, to return to our original question, no, the changes are not enough. But until we see their practical effect, they’ll have to do.

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Chicago Sun-Times. December 1, 2022.

Editorial: Lawmakers must make assault weapons bill strong enough to truly curb gun violence

The state needs to ban the sale of assault weapons, ban the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and require existing assault weapons in the state to be registered.

People with terrifying firearms of immense power keep mercilessly hunting the residents of Chicago and Illinois. Scattering and fleeing is not the answer.

Members of the Legislature are right to say they are taking a stand with legislation designed to reduce gun violence, as reported by Tina Sfondeles and Frank Main in Thursday’s Sun-Times. The bill was introduced on Thursday evening, and the next steps are committee hearings and negotiations, so it’s hard to know what the legislation will look like when it comes up for a vote. But the final bill needs to be a strong one.

Just this year, Illinois has suffered from some 53 mass shootings, at least 36 of them in Chicago, according to G-PAC Illinois, an anti-gun violence group.

A strong bill would include measures that make the city’s and state’s streets safer.

Most important among the provisions the final bill should include are banning the manufacturing and sale of assault weapons in Illinois, banning the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and requiring existing assault weapons in the state to be registered.

Many of the shootings in Chicago are committed with firearms that have large capacity magazines that hold 30 or even 50 bullets. Police can tell when they show up at the site because the area is littered with shell casings. High-capacity gun magazines make it easier to kill many people in a hurry.

Among other measures under discussion that we’d like to see in the final bill are prohibiting devices that turn one-shot-per-trigger-pull firearms into fully automatic weapons like machine guns; raising eligibility for a state firearm owner’s identification card to 21 for most state residents; and extending the duration of a firearm restraining order from six months to one year, including renewed restraining orders. Under what’s called the “red flag law,” restraining orders can be issued to remove guns from the possession of individuals who are a danger to themselves or to others.

The entire bill must be written in a way that has teeth and impact. The devil will be in the details, and the hard work of codifying a final bill remains to be done. For example, defining which weapons are categorized as assault weapons must be done carefully.

Up to states to act

New legislation to address gun violence nationally is unlikely to get through Congress, even though President Joe Biden is calling for a ban on assault weapons. When the new Congress convenes, the House will be majority Republican, which means sensible legislation addressing gun violence is unlikely to go anywhere on the federal level. It’s up to the states to act.

Banning the sale of assault weapons in Illinois and raising the age for getting a state firearm owner identification card to 21 would help prevent shootings such as the July 4 attack on parade-goers in Highland Park. Illinois law now sets the age limit at 21, but a parent or legal guardian can grant consent for someone 18 or older; that exception would be eliminated. The only remaining exception would be for those serving in the military.

Whether raising the age would stand up in court remains to be seen. In February, a Texas federal judge threw out a law requiring people to be 21 to carry guns. If Illinois enacts a similar provision, the issue might wind up being settled by the gun-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.

As of Thursday evening, there were 40,650 gun deaths this year nationwide, more than the number of Americans who died in action in the Korean War. In Chicago, eight people were killed by gunfire over the long Thanksgiving weekend and at least 30 were injured. Nearly 600 people have been killed in shootings in Chicago so far this year. The casualty toll is beyond description.

There weren’t enough votes in the Legislature to support a special session last summer or in the fall to address gun violence, which means proponents of a new bill have their work cut out for them.

But new legislation needs to be drawn up whenever it becomes clear loopholes are allowing killings. Illinois law has too many loopholes and too many gun violence victims.

It’s time to act.

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Champaign News-Gazette. December 4, 2022.

Editorial: Fits and starts in Illinois’ long march to financial solvency

The self-congratulation was effusive when the state’s top elected officials announced plans to pay off a loan from the federal government.

Given that Illinois faces a mountain of debt, it’s always a good thing when our elected officials get together and agree to, however slightly, reduce it.

That’s why Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s announcement last week that the state plans to repay a remaining $1.36 billion debt to the federal government is both welcome and somewhat surprising.

It’s too often been the case that legislators can’t wait to spend whatever cash is lying around, running up further debts rather than reducing existing ones.

So give Pritzker, his legislative minions and business and labor groups credit for agreeing on what passes for a financial fix in this state.

Because of Illinois’ poor financial condition during the coronavirus pandemic, it was forced to borrow $4.5 billion from the federal government to keep its unemployment-compensation trust fund in operation.

The fund, which provides financial aid to those who’ve lost their jobs, was essentially bust before the feds came to Illinois’ aid.

Illinois was one of 22 states needing assistance, and it is one of just four that hasn’t repaid the debt.

The state earlier had paid $2.7 billion back, and there has been a lengthy discussion as to when Illinois should pay the rest.

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