Governor needs to clarify SAFE-T Act

“If we didn’t pass something, we wouldn’t have gotten anything from law enforcement. We wouldn’t have gotten a serious conversation,” claimed Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, recently about why the SAFE-T Act was originally written and passed the way it was.

Ford was speaking about the cash bail provisions within the SAFE-T Act during a public event in suburban Forest Park, according to the Forest Park Review.

Lots of folks on the other side of the negotiations were taking a hard “No” position, so a decision was essentially made to jam the bill through in order to eventually force the other side to the bargaining table.

The cash bail provision is the most discussed aspect of the law. But the original legislation also prevented police officers from using their body cam footage to write reports. The provision wasn't designed to be permanent, but was specifically inserted to make the other side adopt a good faith position at the bargaining table. It worked, and the provision was removed in a subsequent trailer bill.

The difference between these two topics, of course, is that the end of cash bail has caused big public relations headaches for the Democratic Party in the lead-up to the general election, as state’s attorneys, sheriffs, police chiefs and others have denounced the law in a way that has put the majority party on the defensive. But the Democrats have such large supermajorities with a new and more favorable legislative district map that they apparently believed they could assume the risk.

Ford and others have said privately and publicly that some components of the law will have to be changed. But they are sticking with the overall concepts. And with less than three months before the elimination of cash bail and other provisions of the law take effect, maybe the gambit will work. But it hasn’t come without political trouble for people like Gov. JB Pritzker.

I saw Pritzker at an event not long after he refused to answer a question from my associate, Isabel Miller, about what specific changes he would like to make to the SAFE-T Act. I warned him that, since he agreed the law needed to be changed, Miller’s question wasn’t going away.

Well, the governor dodged the same question again and again during and after last week’s televised gubernatorial debate, saying only that he wants unspecified “clarifications” to the law.

The governor likely didn’t want to insult the Black Caucus or have any sort of negative impact on the trailer bill discussions by publicly negotiating against his own side. He probably also didn’t want to cave into pressure from disingenuous actors and instead wanted to tough it out through the election and then deal with the issue in the post-election veto session. Even so, campaigns ought to be about the exchange of ideas and the governor’s refusal to engage deserved to be called out.

Besides, this shouldn’t be that difficult. For example, some are making wild claims about the law’s trespassing language. Hinsdale’s Village President Tom Cauley recently said, according to the Hinsdale Patch, “I guarantee you that we're going to find ourselves with people just camped out in parks, and we cannot ask them to leave. They may be in your backyard or in your shed living there.”

Nonsense.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s Implementation Task Force has officially advised law enforcement that they “do have discretion to remove the person from the location of the alleged criminal activity, and then cite and release the person from another location.” Repeated refusals to comply could then easily be interpreted as being a threat, which would allow an arrest.

It just seems to me that tightening up the law’s language to fully reflect the task force’s guidance and resulting inference about arrests would be a no-brainer response to the question about changes he wants to make.

The list of forcible felonies which trigger provisions to hold people without bail could and should also be expanded, which even some proponents are saying behind the scenes.

And so, not long after I challenged Pritzker in my subscriber newsletter to step up, he did finally tell reporters on Oct. 7 that he thought former prosecutor state Sen. Scott Bennett’s, D-Champaign, proposed changes were worth a look, but stopped short of endorsing any specifics in the Downstate Democrat’s bill.

Baby steps, I guess.

About The Author

Rich Miller

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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