Week in Review: Criminal law, education, veterans & more


New members of the House Republican Caucus. Ten new Illinois House Republicans took their oaths of office on Wednesday, January 13, in Springfield. Joining their colleagues were new Representatives Chris Bos, Amy Elik, David Friess, Jackie Haas, Paul Jacobs, Seth Lewis, Mark Luft, Martin McLaughlin, Adam Niemerg, and Tim Ozinga. Making up almost one-quarter of the members of the new Illinois Republican Caucus, the freshman members of the Illinois House of Representatives are a demonstration of the Caucus’ forward-looking, growth-oriented identity.
The House Republican Caucus, including the new members, unanimously re-elected House Republican Leader Jim Durkin to continue to lead them in the 102nd General Assembly. Leader Durkin pledged to fight for Republican principles and to work in a spirit of cooperation with the majority party.

New Speaker of the House. For the first time in more than two decades, the Illinois House of Representatives will be led by a new Speaker of the House. The presiding officer and head of the Illinois House majority is Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch. Welch replaces Rep. Michael J. Madigan, who had served as Speaker for all but two years since 1983. Welch’s selection became official moments after the new Illinois House of Representatives convened for the inaugural session of the 102nd General Assembly. Welch is the first African-American to lead the Illinois House.

House Republicans had called upon their colleagues to move on from Madigan after allegations of bribery and corruption were revealed in the ComEd Deferred Prosecution Agreement. In July 2020, the Chicago-area electric utility entered into the DPA, including a $200 million payment. The payment may be converted to a criminal fine after the conclusion of ongoing federal prosecutions. Prosecutors have brought charges against Madigan insiders of alleged influence-peddling activities. The prosecution includes an ongoing investigation, by the office of the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois, of Speaker Madigan’s office and his associates. In the second half of 2020, evidence from this investigation was forwarded to the Special Investigating Committee II, chaired by Welch. While then-Rep. Welch, in his capacity of head of the Committee, refused to take any public action against Madigan after receiving this evidence, the eventual outcome was that Madigan ended his time as Speaker and Welch took his place.

Welch’s election as Speaker was not without controversy. Old allegations, including a domestic battery arrest, resurfaced just a day before the House voted to elect Welch as Speaker. In the end, 70 of the 73 House Democrats voted for Welch, while every House Republican supported House Republican Leader Jim Durkin for Speaker. Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who voted “present” in Speaker Welch’s election, called for a vigorous review of the troubling allegations against Welch.

Coronavirus Phase 1b immunizations begin in some regions of Illinois. As supplies of COVID-19 vaccines continue to be delivered to Illinois, new plans provide for immunization availability for approximately 3.2 million State residents. Eligible to be vaccinated will be everyone age 65 and older, plus “frontline essential workers.” A frontline essential worker is a first responder (police officers, firefighters, and others), an educator (teachers, child care workers, and others), a production/delivery worker (persons who work in factories, warehouses, and the U.S. Postal Service), or a member of certain other groups who have been designated as working in high-risk places such as correctional centers and public transit.

Supplies of vaccine have mounted up enough to enable Phase 1b procedures to begin this week in some regions of Illinois. Unfortunately, during the third week of January 2021, most Illinois residents have not yet been vaccinated, and the deadly virus continues to be transmitted and to spread. More than 1 million positive case diagnoses of COVID-19have been tabulated in Illinois, and the deaths of more than 18,500 Illinoisans have been confirmed as attributable to the disease. More than 570,000 Illinoisans had been vaccinated as of Thursday, January 21, but this still made up less than 5% of the total population of Illinois.

People with questions about the supplies of vaccine in their home counties, and whether they are eligible to be vaccinated, should contact their local county health departments. Because vaccination policies are going to be based on how much vaccine each local area has, the Phase 1b rollout is going to be done on a county-by-county basis.

Mitigation procedures and rules continue to be in effect throughout Illinois. Region 4 in southwestern Illinois, centering on the Metro-East suburbs of St. Louis, has moved out of Tier 3 mitigation. All of the regions of Illinois are now in “Tier 2,” “Tier 1,” or “Phase 4,” which allow some collective economic activity. Regions in Tier 1 are allowed to carry out extremely limited indoor drinking and dining. “Phase 4” and “Phase 5” represent progressively lessened levels of mitigation control. Illinois public health experts hope to see increasing levels of vaccination, combined with continued compliance with face coverings and other mitigation efforts.

General Assembly passes controversial criminal justice and police certification changes proposed by Legislative Black Caucus. The abolishment of cash bail was part of an omnibus criminal-law bill that was passed in the final hours of the lame-duck 101st General Assembly. While the new bonding system enacted within the 764-page bill is very complex and its full ramifications are not yet fully understood, the expectation of the sponsors was that the great majority of defendants who have been arrested – Including persons arrested for violent criminal offenses – will be released to back into the community while awaiting trial. This is highly significant because Illinois court procedures often schedule trials to take place many months after preliminary court proceedings have taken place. Requiring cash bail from defendants, including the pretrial detention of some arrested persons who have not yet posted bond, has been an essential element of the work of Illinois law enforcement in keeping our communities safe. House Republicans strongly opposed this change, as it will allow dangerous criminals back into our communities.

However, this cash-bail pillar of Illinois law enforcement is now gone. Although the threat of its abolition had spurred warnings from many criminologists and law enforcement professionals throughout Illinois, including uniformed police officers and police chiefs, Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly ignored the warnings.

House Bill 3653, the Legislative Black Caucus’ omnibus criminal justice bill, contained many controversial provisions that make extensive changes to Illinois ‘criminal justice laws. The legislation abolishes cash bail, makes it more difficult for prosecutors to charge a defendant with felony murder, adds further requirements for no-knock warrants, gives judges the ability to deviate from mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, makes changes to the “three strikes” law, and decreases mandatory supervised release terms, among other changes.

One of the most controversial aspects of HB 3653 was the numerous changes and additional requirements it places on Illinois’ law enforcement officers. The legislation mandates body cams be worn by all officers, creates a new felony offence of law enforcement misconduct, creates an anonymous complaint policy, and makes changes to use of force in making arrest, duty to render aid and duty to intervene. The bill makes significant changes to the law enforcement officer certification and decertification process, including the creation of a new Law Enforcement Certification Review Panel.

House Bill 3653 was approved by the Illinois House on Wednesday, January 13 by the bare majority of 60 votes (60-50-0), with only minutes to spare before the clock struck to end the 101st General Assembly. It was strongly opposed by Illinois’ law enforcement community, including the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and many State’s Attorneys from across the state. Citing serious concerns about both the content and the process by which the bill passed, House Republicans voted unanimously against the measure. The legislation had passed the Illinois Senate in the early hours of the final day of the 101st General Assembly on a vote of 32-23-0. The omnibus criminal-law measure now goes to the Governor’s desk for final action.

General Assembly passes Black Caucus’ education and workforce development pillar. House Bill 2170 contains numerous provisions aimed at improving the quality of education for students of color. These provisions will begin with an annual assessment, to be carried out under the supervision of the State Board of Education (ISBE), of all public school students entering kindergarten. A Data Governance and Organization to Support Equity and Racial Justice Act is enacted. Under this Act, data starting with this assessment will be accumulated throughout enrollment for each group of students. Existing provisions for professional early intervention, by educator professionals, on behalf of students with needs, are strengthened. The bill creates a new grant program for affiliated entities, including community advocacy organizations, that have plans to improve educational outcomes for students of color. It creates and strengthens various programs to encourage the training and retention of teachers of color.

The legislation directs the State Board of Education to change the teaching standards and textbook standards of Illinois to strengthen the current Black History unit of instruction. It creates an Inclusive American History Commission to revise American history, as taught in public schools, to reflect the actual racial identity and racial future of the United States.

The bill adds additional high school graduation requirements. It requires future high school students to take an additional two years of a foreign language to graduate. It requires high school students to take two years of laboratory science (instead of science) to graduate. The bill decreases the qualifications of obtaining quality educators by removing the minimum grade point average of 3.0 or greater on a 4.0 scale to obtain an Alternative Educator License.

It removes requirement that universities use a dollar-for-dollar match for scholarship program, splitting colleges across the state into two categories. The bill also could force school districts to increase property taxes to pay for the multiple unfunded state mandates included in this legislation.

House Bill 2170 was approved by the Illinois House on a vote of 69-41-0. The roll call was largely partisan in the House and Senate (Senate vote of 40-18-0), with Republicans expressing concerns about many aspects of the bill and the process by which it was rushed through the House. After approval, the measure was sent to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

House Republicans Call on Pritzker to Halt Latest Job-Killing Tax Increase Ploy amid Pandemic. State Representatives Mike Murphy, Steve Reick and Mike Marron held a press conference Friday morning to call on the Governor to halt his continued push for decoupling legislation and the higher taxes it would force on struggling Illinois businesses during the pandemic.

“As a former small business owner, I’ve personally experienced how difficult it is to keep your business afloat during hard times, but nothing compares to the hardship being faced right now,” said Rep. Murphy. “I cannot tell you how many calls I’ve received from businesses that won’t make it if the state decouples this federal relief and they’re hit with a tax increase. These people have put their hearts and souls into keeping their businesses, and the jobs they provide to so many families, going through this pandemic. The Governor cannot fix his unbalanced budget by putting these people out of business.”

In the waning hours of the Lame Duck Session last week, Governor Pritzker attempted to rush legislation through the General Assembly that would have amounted to a tax increase estimated at anywhere from $500 million to $1.4 billion. That legislation would have decoupled Illinois’ income tax from a provision in the federal CARES Act passed last spring to provide support for small businesses hit hardest by COVID-19 by allowing them to deduct additional losses in 2020. The legislation failed to pass, but the Governor said in a press conference after its failure that he is planning to push the proposal again and try to force its passage before taxes are due this year.

While other states acted last spring and summer to decouple their income taxes from the CARES Act relief, giving businesses the ability to prepare, Representative Steve Reick questioned the timing and motivation of the Pritzker administration. “The fact that other states were on top of this, giving companies a chance to do some tax planning while Illinois didn’t learn of it until October and then chose to sit on it until January, is an example of either incompetence or executive branch cynicism over its messaging on the Fair Tax. There’s no third option,” Rep. Reick stated.

State Representative Mike Marron represents Vermilion County, which borders Indiana to the east. Marron is concerned his border district will see further job and population loss if Illinois raises taxes on small businesses.

“Allowing the state to intercept almost a billion dollars of financial relief intended for small businesses is the wrong policy at the worst possible time for the men and women across Illinois who have leveraged everything to survive the pandemic,” said Rep. Marron. “Illinois is a large state that neighbors several other states with more attractive business and taxation climates. We cannot pretend these taxes and regulations are of no relevance when businesses choose where to locate. We cannot ask already dying small businesses in Illinois to shoulder the burden of the Pritzker Administration’s billion dollar bureaucratic mistake.”

The representatives also noted that the Governor’s recent move to not implement the Blue Collar Jobs Act as scheduled this January was a blow to already struggling job creators, and this decoupling tax increase would have far worse implications.

Department of Veterans’ Affairs director resigns. The troubled State agency provides overall services for Illinois veterans. These services include residential nursing care facilities for health-challenged veterans who have a variety of age-related conditions. Tragically, thirty-six residents of the Illinois Veterans Home-La Salle have passed away from COVID-19. This outbreak struck down more than one-quarter of the patients at the home. Patients at Illinois Veterans Homes are men and women of uniformed American armed service and their spouses.

The Department has not provided essential information to the press or to the General Assembly on how this outbreak happened and what steps had been taken to try to prevent it. As questions mounted, the Pritzker administration – which has overall supervisory responsibility over the troubled Department – abruptly announced the resignation of Director Linda Chapa LaVia, the now-former head of the Department.

State Representative David Allen Welter issued the following statement on the resignation of Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia:

“Director Chapa LaVia’s resignation was a necessary step in bringing accountability to the Pritzker Administration’s lackluster response to the deadly outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home. I welcome the naming of Major General Peter Nezamis to serve as acting director and encourage him to maintain an active dialogue with members of the Illinois General Assembly as he works to keep our veterans safe.”

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