Week in Review: Budget, victims' rights, REAL ID & more

As Democrats continue budget talks, Republicans say millions of their constituents are being snubbed. As Democrats continue negotiating how to spend taxpayer dollars for the coming fiscal year, Republicans say millions of their constituents across Illinois are being snubbed.

Spring session of the Illinois Legislature ends April 8. It’s expected a plan to spend taxpayer dollars for the fiscal year that starts July 1 will be approved before then. 

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Republicans have been frozen out of negotiations. He expects large amounts of spending supported by federal tax dollars that Democrats will tout as a great accomplishment.

Durkin also said despite House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, saying it’s a “new day” after replacing former longtime Speaker Michael Madigan, Democrats will be taking up what Durkin called the Madigan model to budgeting.

“And that’s excluding the minority party and all their constituents from every major decision regarding their welfare in Illinois,” Durkin said Wednesday during an unrelated news conference.

Three-year State budget projection continues to point at weak Illinois demographics, government fiscal instability, and unfunded pension liabilities. The summary was included in the “Three-Year Budget Forecast: FY 2023 – FY 2025” report, a long-term planning report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA). The Commission is an in-house forecasting arm of the Illinois General Assembly. CGFA works to align the State’s understanding of its cash flows and future prospects with the objective data generated by the Illinois Department of Revenue and with economic trends data generated and monitored by the global investment community.

In light of Illinois’ “structural deficit,” rising interest rates, pressured up by the U.S. Federal Reserve and other parties, are a new threat to Illinois’ government bodies. The Budget Forecast aligns this new trend with existing structural factors, such as State-managed pension debt.

Leader Durkin and Rep. Windhorst Stress Victims’ Rights, Demand Prisoner Review Board Overhaul. In an effort to protect victims of violent crime and their families, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and State Representative Patrick Windhorst advocated Wednesday for legislation to overhaul Illinois’ Prisoner Review Board (PRB) and repeal the so-called “SAFE-T Act.”

This week, Governor Pritzker’s disastrous leadership of the PRB has caused board members to resign and be rejected by the Democrat-led Senate. Durkin introduced HB 5126 in January as it became clear Governor Pritzker was prioritizing the release of cop-killers over protecting victims. Pritzker’s actions have once again broken the justice system in Illinois and torn apart the Prisoner Review Board.

“Today, I want to remind you about the voices that are all too often forgotten in our criminal justice system – the victims of crime,” said Durkin. “When perpetrators of violent crime, like cop killers, are not held accountable, there is a horrific consequence to each and every one of the victims. Governor Pritzker, through his board appointments, has abandoned these victims and their families. We need to reform the Prisoner Review Board immediately as Governor Pritzker can’t be trusted.”

According to Durkin, there are a number of recent examples of violent offenders being released by Pritzker’s PRB over the objections of victims, their families, law enforcement, and judges.

Paul Bryant has a long history of violent crimes, including numerous convictions for murder, rape, home invasion, burglary and more. Bryant was convicted of killing a 59-year-old woman whose throat he slashed during a robbery in 1976 and the murder of a 19-year-old woman who he raped, beat, strangled and set on fire in 1977. Another woman was held at knifepoint, robbed, and raped in her home.

Ray Larsen, a man convicted of murdering a child and deviant sexual behavior, made headlines last year when, just days after being released, he absconded from the state, violating the terms of his parole and becoming a fugitive.

In July of 1970, Johnny Veal murdered two Chicago police officers, Sergeant James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato, who had volunteered for the “walk and talk” community outreach program, which aimed to reduce crime. On July 17, Severin and Rizzato were murdered in cold blood while crossing a baseball field as part of a coordinated sniper attack planned and executed by a local gang.

Durkin’s legislation, House Bill 5126, makes a number of reforms aimed at protecting victims of violent crime and ensuring dangerous offenders remain behind bars.

Windhorst, the chief sponsor of HB 4499, which would repeal the SAFE-T Act, says that Illinois Democrats have created a consequence-free Illinois for criminals, leaving victims of violent crime vulnerable. He argues that Illinois’ citizens deserve to live in safe communities and neighborhoods where they can live, work, play, and raise their families without living in fear of violent criminals that are back out on the street just a few hours after their last offense.

“Victims of violent crime cannot be treated as an afterthought,” said Windhorst. “A peaceful society can only be maintained when the pendulum of justice does not swing too far toward the perpetrators of chaos, violence, and organized crime in our communities and too far away from the rights afforded to victims. When we create a criminal justice system that doesn’t hold violent criminals accountable, we rob victims of the justice they deserve.”

“Our state must change. Democrats need to stop putting criminals before victims and ensure justice is served,” said Durkin. “The voices of victims and their families must be heard loud and clear.”

Lawmakers and unions want answers on inmate movement in downstate prisons. The movement of inmates at Illinois prisons has some communities on edge.

The Illinois Department of Corrections has reportedly developed a plan which includes a major downsizing at two prisons in Pontiac and Vandalia. Under the proposed plan by DOC, both prisons' inmate population would be reduced by around 60%. The location of where the inmates are being moved to has not been publicly revealed. A message to DOC seeking comment was not returned.

According to an overview of the proposal obtained by Lee Enterprises, the changes in Pontiac will not require any staff layoffs or transfers, but relocations to other job assignments within the facility.

In Vandalia, the plan does not require any layoffs but may necessitate some employees transferring to other facilities.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said the affected communities and regions need an update on the situation.

“After having a discussion with the director of the Department of Corrections, myself and many of my colleagues that represent the Vandalia areas and Pontiac areas have pushed for public hearing to transpire from our inquiries,” said Brady.

Lincoln College to close in May 2022 following spring semester. The private college, with about 1,000 students, will cease operations and lay off its teaching, administrative, and operational staff. The closure announcement follows a recent announcement by a neighbor of Lincoln College, Lincoln Christian College, that it would implement a sharp cutback in its classroom operations at the end of the spring 2022 term. Both colleges operate in Logan County, Illinois.

Illinois colleges and universities have been affected by the 2020-22 coronavirus pandemic. The Lincoln College announcement came in the wake of parallel closures by other Central Illinois colleges, including MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois and Springfield College in the Illinois state capital city. In its closure announcement, Lincoln College’s spokesperson pointed not only to COVID-19 but also to a severe cyberattack in December 2021. The cybersecurity breach disrupted the College’s ability to monitor its enrollment, admissions, and fundraising. The Lincoln College closure was announced by its President on Thursday, March 31.

State Representative Tim Butler and State Senator Sally Turner issued the following statement after the Lincoln College Board of Trustees abruptly announced that the Lincoln, IL based college would be permanently ending all academic programming at the end of the spring 2022 semester:

“Today’s unexpected and sudden closure announcement is devastating news for our local community. We both have had close family and friends who attended and graduated from Lincoln College, so we know just how special Lincoln is to its students and alumni.

“For more than 150 years, the namesake college of our 16th President has served as a higher educational pillar for central Illinois. It is painful to think that this historic institution will no longer be a part of our region.

“Our hearts go out to all of the lives that have been abruptly disrupted by this announcement. We promise to do everything within our power to help with the transition process for the students, faculty members, and staff impacted by the closure.”

Secretary of State’s office reminds Illinoisans about REAL ID requirements. The REAL ID card, which is issued as a driver’s license or as a non-drivers’ license ID card, will cost the same as a traditional drivers’ license. However, the process of applying for the card will be longer and more cumbersome because of the additional documentation required to be submitted. The federal REAL ID Act is meant to help national security by increasing the level of verification required to obtain a card that can be sued to enter a secure location such as an airport boarding area, an Army base, or a federal building.

The Secretary of State’s Office of Driver Services is welcoming Illinois residents who have proper documentation and are able to make an appointment to obtain one of the new cards. Applicants will have to show a printed Social Security number, two documents that show proof of residency (such as utility bills, credit card bills, voter registration cards, or bank statements addressed to the applicant’s place of residence) and additional identity documentation. Additional identity documentation includes a birth certificate, U.S. passport, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, permanent residency card, or a prior REAL ID Card.

The REAL ID Card is distinguished from older drivers’ licenses and identity cards by the presence of a white star within a gold circle, printed on the card. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will begin to enforce REAL ID card requirements at airports and other federal-secured spaces on May 3, 2023.

Rep. Swanson Leads Ceremony to Honor Legislators on “Vietnam War Veterans Day.” Excerpt from Rep. Swanson’s remarks:

The Vietnam War was the second-longest war in United States history, after the war in Afghanistan.

Promises and commitments to the people and government of South Vietnam to keep communist forces from overtaking them reached back into the Truman Administration.

Eisenhower placed military advisers and CIA operatives in Vietnam, and John F. Kennedy sent American soldiers to Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson ordered the first real combat by American troops, and Richard Nixon concluded the war.

President Nixon signed a ceasefire in January 1973 that formally ended the hostilities. In 1975, communist forces from the north overran the south and unified the nation.

March 29th was chosen as Vietnam Veterans Day because the last American combat troops left the Republic of Vietnam on March 29th, 1973. The average age of the American soldier in Vietnam was nineteen. Over 2.7 million Americans served in Vietnam. 58,281 United States citizens died in the war.