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SAFE-T Act court hearing set for Dec. 7

KANKAKEE — Arguments will be heard Dec. 7 in a civil lawsuit in Kankakee County filed by 58 Illinois counties regarding the legality of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, or SAFE-T Act.

The SAFE-T Act was signed into law by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February 2021.

A crucial part of the bill, the Pretrial Fairness Act, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

This section has drawn criticism from law enforcement and state’s attorneys for the elimination of cash bail and rules on how suspects are detained.

On Oct. 31, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered all SAFE-T Act civil lawsuits pending across Illinois be consolidated into the Circuit Court of Kankakee County.

The court’s order consolidated 58 counties’ civil lawsuits against the state of Illinois asking that HB3653, the “SAFE-T Act,” be declared unconstitutional.

Kankakee County’s case became the lead case statewide.

Chief judge of the 21st Circuit, Tom Cunnington, will hear the case, according to Kankakee County online records.

After hearing arguments, he will make his decision on or prior to Dec. 15, Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said.

Rowe filed his civil lawsuit in Kankakee County Circuit Court on Sept. 16. Kankakee County was the first to file against the state.

He filed the same day Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow filed a similar civil lawsuit in Will County.

The lawsuit is brought against Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, House Speaker Emanuel Christopher Welch, and Senate President Don Harmon in their official capacities.

Rowe and Glasgow are both Democrats.

Rowe’s lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction based upon claims the SAFE-T Act violates the Illinois Constitution; violates the single-subject law; violates separation of powers; is unconstitutionally vague; and violates the three-readings requirement.

The Supreme Court named Rowe, Glasgow and the state’s attorneys of Kendall, Vermilion, Sangamon and McHenry counties as the lead counsel.

Violates state constitution

Rowe, the Kankakee County state’s attorney since December 2016, noted when the lawsuit was filed in September that every previous amendment to the state’s constitution has been accomplished by referendum vote of the people.

Amendments to the current bail section of the constitution were adopted by referendum vote in 1982, Rowe said.

In 2014, voters approved amendments to the Victim’s Rights Act [Article 1, Section 8.1], also by referendum vote of the people, he added.

Rowe argues legislators who voted for the SAFE-T Act in January 2021 “ignored this process and attempted to amend the Illinois Constitution by denying voters the right to decide and instead placing the decision unconstitutionally and solely in the hands of legislators.”

“The SAFE-T Act has effectively amended this section of the Illinois Constitution without a referendum vote of the people,” he said when he filed the lawsuit Sept. 16. “The Legislature does not have that power. This lawsuit and the Illinois Constitution beg our legislators to do what is right and follow the process: give the people their right to vote.”

Pritzker has said the lawsuit is a weak attempt to protect the status quo that lets murderers and abusers pay their way out of jail.

“The SAFE-T Act not only prevents that from happening, but also provides law enforcement officers the tools they need to fight crime, like body cameras, additional training and access to mental health care,” Pritzker said in September when the lawsuit was filed. “Victims’ rights organizations support the law and the state will defend creating a more equitable criminal justice system in court.”

 The Great Mouse Race returned for its sixth annual fundraising event hosted by the River Valley Special Recreation Association Saturday night…

Solar farm gets OK from Kankakee County Board

The Heritage Prairie Solar Farm, which will be built on 3,700 acres of leased farmland near Essex in western Kankakee County, got its approval from the Kankakee County Board at Wednesday’s board meeting.

The Board voted 22-1 to give the 300-megawatt Heritage Prairie Solar Farm, a joint venture from Houston, Texas-based Connect Gen and Pattern Energy, its final zoning approval.

Board member Larry Kerkstra voted against, as he was concerned about if all certified and qualified workers and trades will be represented on the project.

Josh Kuba, director of environmental affairs for ConnectGen, said the project has a memorandum of understanding to include three separate union trades [laborers, electricians and operators] on the project. He added that the Carpenter’s Union is not part of the MOU. The general contractor will negotiate a project labor agreement.

“We don’t have a project labor agreement at this time,” he said. “However, at that time that project labor agreement must include all three trades, but it also does not preclude other trades, including the Carpenter’s Union, from joining in on that PLA at that time.”

Previously, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved by a 5-0 vote the special use permit on Oct. 6. The Planning and Zoning Committee overwhelmingly approved the permit on Oct. 19. The next steps for Heritage Prairie will be getting building, stormwater and state permits for the project, but there will be no more hearings.

“They can actually move forward with the project,” said Delbert Skimmerhorn, director of planning and GIS for Kankakee County.

Construction on the $500 million project is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2024, and the solar farm’s footprint will take up 1,600 acres of the total farmland. The commercial operation would begin in the latter part of 2025. It’s estimated to provide more than 150 full-time local construction jobs. After construction, two full-time employees will be dedicated to the solar farm for the 30- to 35-year life of the project.

Over the life of the project, more than $44 million in property tax revenue will be generated to the taxing jurisdictions within its large footprint and approximately $23 million in property taxes to Herscher and Reed-Custer school districts.

Kuba said the solar farm site is ideal because of its proximity to electric transmission infrastructure.

“That is called the point of interconnection,” he said. “The location here is where we’re interconnecting two ComEd transmission lines cross, so this project will ultimately connect to both of those.”

Bourbonnais to host third annual holiday lighting contest

BOURBONNAIS — The village of Bourbonnais will host the third annual Holiday Homes & Holly Jolly Lighting Contest. The community event encourages outdoor festive lighting and decorations during the holiday season.

An online map of all entry addresses will be available for public viewing Dec. 4-25.

Returning this year is the option to choose participation solely as a Holiday Home on the tour or be additionally included in the Holly Jolly Lighting Contest.

Residents will have a chance to win in traditional and people’s choice categories. The Holiday Homes & Holly Jolly Lighting Contest is open to all village of Bourbonnais residents and free to participate. Registration is now open until 4:30 p.m. Nov. 29.

“The village’s lighting contest is a free and fun way for families to experience the holidays in Bourbonnais,” said Mayor Paul Schore in a news release. “This is a festive event for all of Kankakee County to enjoy.”

Lindy Casey, marketing and public engagement manager for the village, added that the 2021 online map was viewed almost 34,000 times during the holiday season and over 4,000 people’s choice votes were tallied.

Official judging will take place in the traditional category. People’s choice voting will take place via the village of Bourbonnais’ Facebook page Dec. 4-18. All winners will be notified and announced.

Registration forms are available at the village of Bourbonnais’ administration office, 600 Main St. NW, during business hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or can be downloaded at