Week in Review: Crime, fentanyl dealers, corruption & more


Lawsuits filed to strike down Democrats’ SAFE-T Act. State’s attorneys, who are tasked with implementing the so-called “SAFE-T Act” on January 1, 2023, are asking questions about the constitutionality of the proposed new law.

The Democrat-passed SAFE-T Act, if it is allowed to go into effect, will eliminate Illinois’ cash bail system on January 1, which will have wide-ranging consequences throughout our criminal justice system. With the elimination of cash bail, criminal suspects will be detained before trial only in the case of forcible felonies which are nonprobational or unless they are considered a flight risk or a danger to someone in the community. Many violent crimes, including robbery, vehicular invasion, DUI resulting in a death, and second-degree murder, do not qualify under this new law. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has called this policy “a horrible slap in the face to victims and neighborhoods desperately seeking safety.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed to stop or strike down the SAFE-T Act. Kankakee County State’s Attorney James R. Rowe and Kankakee County Sheriff Michael Downey have filed a lawsuit containing five separate counts as reasons why the Act must be declared unconstitutional and repealed in full. The lawsuit holds that the new Act is a violation of the single-subject rule (it is an omnibus law that contains provisions touching on a wide variety of subjects); it violates reasonable construction of the bail provisions of the Constitution of Illinois; it violates separation of powers by telling the courts what they can and cannot do; it was passed by a lame-duck General Assembly without the scrutiny required by the Constitution; and the new Act is unconstitutionally vague. The case has been filed in the Twenty-first Judicial Circuit as Rowe and Downey v. Raoul and Pritzker. Parallel cases, containing many of the same elements as the Kankakee case, have been filed in McHenry County as Kenneally v. Raoul and Pritzker, and in Will County as Glasgow v. Raoul.

Concerns continue about the overall future of law enforcement procedures under the SAFE-T Act. As of this week, their questions about key facets of the new law have not yet been answered by proponents of the new law. The Downey and Glasgow lawsuits were filed on Friday, September 16.

The Democrats’ SAFE-T Act includes provisions that will exacerbate the issue of rising crime and make Illinois communities less safe. House Republicans are leading the charge to repeal the SAFE-T Act. Please sign our petition to help us repeal this dangerous law.

Republican lawmakers introduce legislation to go after fentanyl dealers. Republican lawmakers who say they are fed up with Democratic efforts to lessen the penalties for drug dealers in Illinois have introduced new legislation.

Last April, the House narrowly passed a measure that lowered the criminal penalties for what they call low-level possession of drugs like fentanyl and heroin. Misdemeanors under the bill include possession of less than five grams of cocaine, less than five pills of most scheduled III substances such as Xanax and Valium, and less than 40 pills of oxycodone and similar painkillers. […]

State Rep. Chris Bos, R-Lake Zurich, said it doesn’t take much fentanyl to do harm.

“Five milligrams of fentanyl is lethal and deadly. We can’t have that be just a simple misdemeanor,” Bos said during a news conference.

Republicans have introduced legislation designed to allow state attorneys to prosecute fentanyl dealers.

“If you are going out of your way to put fentanyl into other drugs, putting it into vitamins, putting it in something that looks like candy, putting into something that is rainbow colored, you clearly have an intent to distribute, to target, to harm,” said state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst.

State senator indicted on federal corruption charges. A sitting State Senator has been indicted on federal corruption charges including bribery and lying to the FBI. How many more indictments will it take before Democrats get serious about ending corruption in Illinois?

We must take steps to end the culture of corruption in Illinois by passing strong ethics laws. House Republicans have sponsored legislation to ban legislators from serving as lobbyists and empower the Legislative Inspector General to actively root out corruption. We need robust ethics reform today to give our citizens the honest, transparent state government they deserve.

Former ethylene oxide operator Sterigenics hit with massive verdict. Sterigenics used ethylene oxide, a toxic chemical, in its Willowbrook, Illinois plant. Spokespersons for the plant, which sterilized medical and industrial supplies and equipment, stated incorrectly that the plant had used a closed-cycle process that kept the toxic ethylene oxide sealed within the plant. That assertion broke down when investigators discovered a pattern of shipments of ethylene oxide to the plant. It was clear that some of the chemical was consistently being released from the plant, and thus the plant’s operations needed additional supplies of ethylene oxide to make up the shrinkage. Air samples, taken from locations adjacent to the Willowbrook plant, indicated that ethylene oxide was entering the atmosphere from a location somewhere in Chicago’s southwest suburbs that was at or adjacent to the Sterigenics plant.

Working to protect their constituents, House Republicans led by Leader Jim Durkin successfully pressured Sterigenics to shut down the plant. Under pressure from the State of Illinois, the Willowbrook plant suspended its operations in February 2019 and shut down permanently in September 2019. In a separate act of pressure against the chemical firm, a set of plaintiffs commenced tort litigation against the company. Various points of evidence were set forth in legal proceedings to connect Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide with health damages committed against various people who lived, or had lived, adjacent to the plant.

On Monday, September 19, the first plaintiff’s judgement came down in this litigation. A Cook County jury directed Sterigenics to pay $258 million to a breast-cancer survivor. Heavy additional damages were also assessed against two other firms associated with Sterigenics’ Willowbrook operations. Other legal cases against Sterigenics are ongoing.

Annual report tracks sharp increase in Illinois gaming activities. The report was published this week by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA). The gambling industry is a particular focus of attention by CGFA and the Illinois General Assembly, because this is a fast-growing industry that is heavily taxed by law. The Illinois State Lottery, Illinois video gaming terminals, licensed casinos, licensed sports wagering, and other gaming enterprises generate substantial revenues for Illinois schools, general revenue, and capital reinvestment.

Overall Illinois gaming activities expanded sharply in FY22, the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2022. This growth marked the diminishment of the COVID-19 pandemic, which at its height had shut down Illinois casino gaming and Illinois video gaming parlors. State tax revenues swelled as well. Compiling together the numbers from various tax streams, CGFA reported that the State’s share of tax revenues from wagering in Illinois was $1.88 billion, up 38.2% from FY21. This growth rate is not sustainable and will not be repeated in the current fiscal year, FY23. It was a one-time spike enjoyed as the COVID-19 pandemic was diminishing and public activities were resuming in the wake of the virus.

The Illinois casino industry is getting a multi-year boost from a new State law enacted in 2019. This measure authorized the awarding of six new casino licenses in various locations throughout Illinois. New casino developments, in locations such as Rockford, are the product of this new law. The 2019 law also legalized online and in-casino sportsbook wagering, which is currently a fast-growing sector of the Illinois gambling industry.

Other facets of Illinois gaming are stable. The Illinois State Lottery continues to sell tickets, with an emphasis on multistate jackpot games. The $1.28 billion ’jackpot’ game ticket sold in Illinois in July 2022 generated Lottery activity that came after the end of the fiscal year covered in this report. A once-key facet of Illinois gaming, horse racing, continues to decline. Horse racing activities, overseen by the Illinois Racing Board and by private racetracks, have lost market share to other forms of gaming. The owners of a major Illinois thoroughbred track, Arlington Park, permanently closed the venue in late 2021. This affected Illinois live horse racing in FY22. Two live horse race tracks continue to do business in Illinois: Fairmount near St. Louis, and Hawthorne near Chicago.

U.S. inflation rate hit 8.3% annual rate in August 2022. Soaring prices for housing, food, energy, and many other essential goods and services are hitting all Illinoisans. The near-double-digit number followed inflation of 8.5% in July 2022 and 9.1% in June. This was the highest rate of inflation recorded in the United States since the post-Carter spike numbers recorded in the early 1980s. Grocery commodities, such as butter and eggs, have increased even faster in price throughout Illinois and much of the U.S.

Illinois inflation numbers are further affected by the unique upward pressures on energy costs in our state. Exceptionally high tax rates for electricity, natural gas, and especially refined petroleum products help to make Illinois one of the most expensive of the 50 states to operate a family household. Motor fuel taxes are higher in Illinois than in any of the neighboring states of Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, or Wisconsin. Pump prices reflect these tax rates. Motor fuel costs were further hurt in summer 2022 by a fire at the BP plc refinery in Whiting, Indiana. A refinery blaze raised Chicago-area pump prices by a further 30 cents per gallon.

Illinois metro areas unemployment rates released for August. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) published a monthly report this week on August 2022 unemployment in 14 metropolitan areas throughout Illinois.

The report shows that recession-level unemployment rates continue to be in effect in four major Illinois metropolitan areas: Danville (5.7%), Decatur (6.5%), Kankakee (5.9%), and Rockford (6.8%). These metro areas are historically tied to U.S. industry and manufacturing. The statewide Illinois August 2022 unemployment rate was 4.8%, which closely matched the local rates in major metropolitan areas (Chicago – 5.0%, Peoria – 4.9%) that are transitioning from manufacturing to service industries. Two centers of Illinois higher education and computer-chip-aided manufacturing, Bloomington (3.9%) and Champaign-Urbana (4.3%), had relatively low unemployment in August 2022.

Unemployment rates continue to be much lower in neighboring states than in Illinois. This pattern of non-Illinois prosperity helped unemployment rates in two non-Illinois-dominated metro areas: the Quad Cities (3.8%) and the St. Louis area (4.3%).

The 2022 Illinois State Fair set a new attendance record. Springfield’s Illinois State Fair attendance figure of 636,700soared more than 30% from the pandemic-affected 2021 fair (472,388) and were also well above the pre-pandemic attendance level (508,900) set in 2019. Ticket sales for concerts at the Grandstand also hit an all-time high.

Based on public support and the ongoing State capital spending program, more than $45 million has been earmarked for State Fair infrastructure. The money will be spent to refit, re-reroof, and replace HVAC systems in iconic structures such as the Coliseum, the Orr Building, and the Illinois Building.