KANKAKEE — A criminal justice omnibus bill that aims to alter the state of policing in Illinois is among issues to be dealt with during the veto session of the Illinois General Assembly.
During the seven-day session that began Friday in Springfield, State Sen. Elgie Sims Jr., D-Chicago, filed the amendment to House Bill 163 on Tuesday. Sims’ 17th District includes portions of Kankakee and Will counties, including Grant Park, Manteno and Beecher. He chairs the Senate Criminal Law Committee.
The Illinois Black Caucus has worked on the legislation since last summer.
“After months of discussions and negotiations, many hours of input from the community and the informed opinions of policy experts who have devoted themselves to criminal justice reform, I’m proud to carry House Bill 163 in the Senate,” Sims said in a statement to the Daily Journal on Thursday.
He said the legislation would make a number of reforms aimed at making our system fairer and hold it accountable.
“That will make a better, safer Illinois, not just for the Black community, but for all Illinoisans,” he said.
“We are seeking comprehensive reform by addressing a number of key areas, including how police use force and how they are held accountable for that use of force, how we deal with bail in a way that is not destructive to those who have not been convicted of crimes, and how we change sentencing so that it does not continue to perpetuate a cycle of recidivism,” Sims added.
The 611-page amendment was added to a bill introduced in 2019 regarding a change to the state’s Controlled Substance Act.
Criminal reform violence reduction and police accountability is one of the four pillars the caucus wants to address in what they say is systemic racism in the state.
The other three include education and workforce development; economic access, equity and opportunity; and health care and human services.
HB 163 contains several articles that would stand as their own new laws while also amending key components of state law already on the books. While most of the legislation pertains to law enforcement, there are sections devoted to altering other aspects of the criminal justice system, such as pre-trial detention, sentencing laws and prison diversion.
The legislation has also received support from criminal justice reform groups such as the Illinois Justice Project and the Building a Safe Illinois Coalition.
Law enforcement concerns
The criminal reform legislation has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers as well as law enforcement organizations and officials.
In a post Thursday on the sheriff department’s Facebook page, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said he opposes the bill.
“I’ve attached a 611 page bill regarding police reform that is being introduced during a lame duck session of the General Assembly, or as one legislator stated, ‘It was filed late so it couldn’t be picked apart,” he said in the post.
“I think it is important for the residents of Kankakee County to know that, despite being authored by Illinois Sen. Elgie Sims Jr. (17th District), as your local county sheriff, I, nor any law enforcement professionals, was consulted about this bill prior to being written, nor were any of my concerns addressed afterwards.
“In fact, I was advised that several items of concern were not going to be proposed in the legislation, only to find out later that they were, indeed, included in the bill,” Downey continued.
“This bill, if approved, would effectively eliminate law enforcement as we know it,” he said. “Our law enforcement officers are among some of the most honest, brave and best in our nation and this bill would likely drive a large majority of them out of public service as a result. This is single-handedly the most detrimental piece of legislation ever proposed and I think it’s crucial that our area residents understand the underlying implications if it were to pass.”
Downey added, “It’s unfortunate that the members of the Illinois General Assembly aren’t held to the same standards to which they hold Illinois police officers, as there would likely be many vacated seats.”
Downey encouraged Kankakee County and all state residents to call their elected officials to remove the bill from consideration.
The Illinois Fraternal of Police came out against the legislation as well.
“The fight over this bill is a fight to save law enforcement,” the organization said in a press release. “If we lose this fight, it might as well be a crime to be a law enforcement officer in Illinois. You need to contact your Senator and Representative to implore that they do not hand this state over to the felons while criminalizing our profession.”
State Sen. John Curran, R-Lemont, said he opposes the bill, arguing that it makes police the enemy of the residents of the state.
“While we must ensure that law enforcement officials are held accountable, this legislation goes well beyond reform and seeks to destroy the law enforcement profession,” Curran said in a release.
“Quite simply, this legislation, if adopted, is just as bad as ‘Defunding the Police’ and will make our communities less safe and make us all more vulnerable to criminal acts,” he continued.
The General Assembly has six days to debate and vote on HB 163 during the lame duck session that runs until Jan. 13.