Week in Review: Repealing the SAFE-T Act, teacher shortage, pensions & more


House Republicans call for repeal of Democrats’ “damaging and dangerous” SAFE-T Act. January is the one-year anniversary of Illinois Democrats passing sweeping legislation to defund, disarm, and disrespect our police. House Democrats voted yes, House Republicans voted NO. Violent crime is up, police retirements are increasing, and our communities are less safe. House Republicans are sponsoring legislation that would repeal the so-called “SAFE-T Act.”
On Thursday, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin held a press conference with former state’s attorney Rep. Patrick Windhorst and Assistant Republican Leaders Deanne Mazzochi and Ryan Spain to call for the repeal of the ill-conceived SAFE-T Act, which was passed by Democrats on the final night of the January 2021 lame-duck session.

Since the law was enacted, many neighborhoods in Chicago and surrounding suburbs have witnessed an increase in violent crimes that include murder, expressway shootings, carjackings, assaults, armed robberies, smash & grabs and mob retail theft. Compared to 2019, crime is up 7.5% in Chicago.

Spain called the SAFE-T Act “damaging and dangerous with real consequences for the people of the state of Illinois.”

Spain said crime has skyrocketed in Illinois with increases in retail theft, carjacking and murders, citing 800 murders last year in Chicago.

Illinois has become the wild, wild Midwest,” Durkin said.

Tweaks to the bill, including a measure passed last year diluting some of the use-of-force language in the original bill, aren’t good enough, the Republicans said on Thursday, and the SAFE-T Act should be repealed entirely. Mazzochi said it would only take a few Democrats to cross over to get it done.

“Repeal is a realistic solution. The original, underlying legislation passed with a bare minimum of 60 votes,” Mazzochi said. “ … It almost didn’t pass the first time.”

“As a member of the Illinois House Judiciary Criminal Law Committee and as a member of the Illinois House in the 101st General Assembly, I voted against the sweeping package of reforms that make up the SAFE-T Act,” Windhorst said. “Now, I’ve introduced legislation that would repeal the anti-police reforms in the law. This is one step Illinois can take to restore law and order and stem the tide of spiraling crime.”

The abolishment of cash bail was part of the omnibus criminal justice reform 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, 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. House Republicans strongly opposed this change, as it will allow dangerous criminals back into our communities.

House Bill 3653 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.

The new SAFE-T Act has made Illinois a less safe place to live for just about everyone. Something needs to be done to address violent crime in Illinois, but it is clear rushing legislation through the General Assembly was not the right solution.

House Republicans have filed legislation to repeal the dangerous SAFE-T Act and we have established a petition to get your input. If you agree we need to repeal the SAFE-T Act, please sign our petition at ilhousegop.org/repeal.

With Omicron surging, Illinois hospitals forced to call on the National Disaster Medical Assistance team. A team of military medical professionals is available for emergency first response work throughout America. Typically, they are deployed in cases of extreme natural disaster. With hospitals in some parts of Illinois facing operational challenges under a flood of COVID-positive patients, the National Disaster Medical Assistance team has come to Illinois. First deployments were in the hard-hit Rockford and Wisconsin Stateline areas.

Emergency department and ER personnel are especially pressured by the current pandemic, as many patients’ first ability to see a medical care provider is in the ER. Under current protocols, every patient who tests positive for COVID-19 must be kept isolated from all other patients, leading to highly challenging physical placements of patients in relation to each other. While the “first wave” of coronavirus in spring 2020 saw health care centers setting up tents adjacent to hospitals, in the winter of 2022 this is not possible. Hospitals in other areas besides Rockford, including hospitals and clinics within greater Chicago, are also challenged by the current outbreak. The Medical Assistance team deployment to Illinois came after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) issued an official finding that regions within Illinois were running out of hospital bed space.

Omicron trend line indicates that rate of new infections may be dropping. The “Omicron variant” of COVID-19 has been surging throughout the world. Infection rates, and positive testing results, have tended to spike up and down rapidly. These numbers and trend lines, which can be plotted on a computer graph, have appeared in South Africa, in southeastern England, in greater New York City and the U.S. Northeast, and now in Illinois.

Although the rate of positive cases may be dropping in Illinois, hospitalizations remain high. As of Tuesday, January 18, Illinois hospitals were reporting 6,507 patients hospitalized with coronavirus. More than 500 new patients were being admitted daily to bed care for COVID, and only 10% of total Illinois hospital intensive care unit (ICU) beds were available for these new patients. Public health leaders continue to urge that all Illinoisans to maintain social distancing, and for all who are eligible to do so to achieve booster-shot vaccination status.

Illinois education superintendents worry about schoolteacher shortage. Numerous trends in public school education, including but not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased pressures of all sorts upon many of Illinois’ public school districts. Ever-increasing mandates upon public schools mean that teachers, their classrooms, and the families of enrolled pupils have less and less control over what is taught at any given time.

A current study, carried out by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents and reported on Wednesday, January 19, adds numbers to this perception of public concern. The Association, which represents the regional superintendents that oversee regional groups of school districts throughout the state, compiled a collective figure of how many unfilled teaching slots currently remain open in Illinois public schools. More than 2,000 teaching positions are currently open, with their schools looking for teachers to fill them.

Questioned about this number, many individual teachers report low job satisfaction with their work. They describe the overall perception of being scapegoated for numerous problems of society, including intergroup conflicts and widening inequality between different groups of Americans. Many certified teachers, despite the investments they have made in their profession, are considering a career change or retirement. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many U.S. public school systems, including schools in California, are reporting worsening teacher shortages. Based on current teacher headcounts and trends, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents report projects a worsening Illinois public teacher shortage over the next two years.

University of Illinois system will increase tuition rates in 2022. The tuition will cover classroom education in the 2022-2023 school year. The decision to raise tuition, which will cover Urbana, Chicago, Springfield, and other sites operated by the University of Illinois system, was finalized by University trustees at their meeting on Thursday, January 20.

In explaining their decision, University trustees pointed to a tuition freeze maintained by the University for six of the past seven years. During this seven-year period, costs incurred by the University – particularly the health care benefits of U of I professors, instructors, and employees – have soared in cost, making the tuition hike inevitable. This seven-year period has also seen many non-tuition fees also charged by the U of I system, for attendance costs other than direct classroom education, go up each year; the tuition freeze has not frozen non-tuition fees.

The U of I tuition hike will affect many students differently, depending on their individualized enrollment statuses. Students are urged to contact the University’s Office of Student Financial Aid for further advice and discussion. Other public and private universities throughout Illinois are also raising their tuition rates.

Batinick Buyout Extension Passes Out of House Pensions Committee. On Thursday, legislation to authorize additional funding and extend the successful “Batinick Buyout” program for state pensions passed out of the House Personnel & Pensions Committee. House Bill 4292, of which Rep. Mark Batinick is a chief co-sponsor, was passed by the committee with unanimous support.

“I’m happy an idea I had years ago to save the state significant money has been successful and will continue under this legislation,” said Rep. Batinick. “I look forward to seeing this legislation move through the General Assembly and re-execute this successful buyout option.”

HB 4292 would amend the General Obligation Bond Act and authorize an additional $1 billion to State Pension Obligation Acceleration Bonds. These bonds make accelerated pension benefit payments and would be increased from $1 billion to $2 billion in this legislation. Participants can receive this accelerated pension benefit payment instead of any pension benefit or for a reduction in the increases to their annual retirement annuity and survivor’s annuity. This extension would move from June 30th, 2024 to June 30th, 2026.

Rep. Batinick originally introduced this pension reform language in 2018, which closely resembled a plan he introduced in 2016 and 2017. At the time, he was the first person in the United States to propose such a concept in bill form. It offers retirees more flexibility with their pensions and helps the state save taxpayer money.

Rep. Batinick is the House Republican Spokesperson for the Personnel & Pensions Committee.