Week in Review: Crime, catalytic converter theft, Halloween & more


SAFE-T Act lawsuits consolidated into Kankakee County case. More than one-half of the 102 state’s attorneys of Illinois have filed lawsuits against the pending enforcement of the Democrats’ so-called “SAFE-T Act.” The new State law, set to go into effect on January 1, 2023, will end cash bail in Illinois and will make other controversial changes to Illinois’ criminal justice system. Most law enforcement officers and prosecutors who work in the offices of the state’s attorneys oppose key elements of the SAFE-T Act. Because of overall constitutional questions concerning the policies contained in the Act, the wording of the Act, and the way the Act was drafted and passed by the General Assembly, many Illinois state’s attorneys believe the Act raises constitutional questions that block its validity and enforcement. Fifty-eight Illinois state’s attorneys, who represent more than one-half of the 102 counties of Illinois, have joined these lawsuits.

Consolidating the SAFE-T Act lawsuits will enable these concerns to go forward in a court of law. The consolidated lawsuit will be heard in Kankakee County, the home venue of the first lawsuit. All fifty-eight plaintiff state’s attorneys are reported to have agreed to the consolidation. Making this into one lawsuit will reduce the possibility of different courts issuing cross-cutting opinions on the points of law raised by the state’s attorneys, and by law enforcement. The court of jurisdiction has the power to issue a stay on the SAFE-T Act, prior to its implementation date on Jan. 1. Staying enforcement of this Act would enable the concerns raised in these lawsuits to be heard. It would prevent the date set in the Act from pre-empting the due process of law. The consolidation papers were filed in Kankakee County circuit court on Thursday, October 20.

Rep. Elik sponsors legislation to deter theft of catalytic converters. With the ongoing theft of catalytic converters from automobiles on the rise, State Representative Amy Elik filed legislation to make it a felony for individuals that stockpile stolen catalytic converters from vehicles.

“If your catalytic converter is stolen from your car, it can cost as much as $3,000 to replace it,” said Rep. Elik. “We are seeing an increase in theft because criminals can get anywhere from $25 to over $1,000 by selling the stolen car part at a scrap dealer. Improving the law by making it a felony if you illegally purchase more than 100 catalytic converters will help deter criminals from stealing this expensive automotive part, as criminals will not have anywhere to go to sell the stolen converter.”

State Farm says U.S. catalytic converter thefts have surged more than 400% since 2019. According to one count, Illinois is currently the #3 state (behind California and Texas) in the number of catalytic converter thefts reported to insurers or police.

In September, police seized 287 catalytic converters from a scrap-metal business in East Alton that is accused of illegally buying the parts. And in Chicago, the theft of catalytic converters has nearly tripled compared to a year ago.

State Representative Amy Elik filed legislation aimed at reducing the theft of catalytic converters following a recent letter from Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine suggesting that lawmakers amend the Recyclable Metal Purchase Registration Law to make it a felony to stockpile multiple catalytic converters.

According to Haine, “We appreciate the attention that our lawmakers are giving to this growing problem. This legislation would help to dry up the market for stolen catalytic converters, and thus serve to deter would-be thieves. These thefts are a costly burden for the victims, and they drive up insurance premiums for all Illinois vehicle owners.”

The legislation filed by Representative Elik (HB 5828) on October 26 provides that any recyclable metal dealer or other person who knowingly fails to record the purchase of 100 or more catalytic converters is guilty of a Class 4 felony.

Rep. Elik’s legislation is co-sponsored by lawmakers representing Madison County which include State Representatives C.D. Davidsmeyer and Charlie Meier. Madison County area lawmakers want to see the legislature take action on this important legislation in the upcoming veto session scheduled to begin on Tuesday, November 15.

Illinois School Report Card shows steep declines in English and math test scores. Numbers from standardized tests administered last spring show steep declines in the percentage of students who met or exceeded state standards in English language arts and math compared to 2019, the last year tests were administered before the pandemic.

Those numbers were reported in the latest state report card, which the Illinois State Board of Education released Thursday. In addition to test results, the report card includes information on a wide range of education metrics such as graduation rates, class sizes and teacher qualifications. It offers statewide data as well as data on each district and school building. […]

Overall, only 27.4 percent of third graders in Illinois met or exceeded state standards in reading, down from 36.4 percent in 2019.

That’s considered an important metric because third grade reading skills are a strong indicator of future success in school. A 2010 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who are not proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who are proficient. […]

Last year, only 23.1 percent of Illinois eighth graders scored proficient in math, down from 32.6 percent in 2019.

Illinois unemployment worst in nation for September. Despite sustained job growth recently, the unemployment rate in Illinois is now the worst in the nation.

Illinois’ unemployment rate remains 4.5%, now the highest in the nation and a full percentage point higher than the national rate of 3.5%.

The state’s sluggish recovery from the pandemic is putting the state in a precarious position as economic uncertainty and recession fears continue to increase. Illinoisans suffered more than most Americans during the Great Recession. Because the state still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic, it remains vulnerable to suffering more severely than other states should a recession occur.

Illinois has a tendency to struggle to recover from economic downturns compared to the rest of the nation, as it did after the Great Recession and is doing now after the pandemic. During the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, Illinois’ economy shrank by nearly 5% compared to a 3.2% drop in the rest of the nation. Then it lagged the recovery from 2009 to 2017, growing by 10.6% while the rest of the nation grew by 17.1%.

Metro Illinois jobs report released for September. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) this week released its September 2022 report on unemployment rates in fourteen Illinois local metropolitan areas. The report shows continued recession-level jobless rates in four metro areas, Danville, Decatur, Kankakee, and Rockford. These are regions of Illinois that are traditionally aligned with equipment manufacturing and heavy industry. The rate were as follows: Danville 5.0%, Decatur 5.7%, Kankakee 5.1%, and Rockford 5.9%.

Unemployment rates in other metro areas within Illinois, including the key metro Chicago area, showed unemployment below 5.0%. The rate in Chicago was 4.7%. Regions of Illinois with an orientation towards higher education or health care, such as Bloomington (3.4%) and Champaign-Urbana (3.5%), posted figures in line with their economic sectors. The states that border Illinois have generally healthier economies than Illinois does as of the present date, and some Illinois areas showed patterns in September 2022 that may have been influenced by the booming health of our neighboring states. For example, the Quad Cities had a jobless rate in September 2022 of only 3.4%; the rate in Chicago-area Lake County, which borders Wisconsin, was 3.6%; and the unemployment rate in the St. Louis-oriented Metro-East region of southwestern Illinois was 3.8%.

Illinois’ pension fund for educators continues to have less than half of the funding it needs. Public school teachers are only part of the vested-member population of the fund, which also includes school administrators and support personnel. The Teachers Retirement System (TRS) is governed in Springfield and is managed by contractors who are private money managers. In Fiscal Year 2022, the pension fund controlled by TRS and its managers lost money: every dollar in the fund at the beginning of the year was worth slightly less than 99 cents at the end of the year. TRS explains that FY22 was a poor 12-month period for stock markets and other places of global investment activity.

In an annual report released this week, covering Fiscal Year 2022, TRS stated that their fund’s assets under management would cover 43.8% of the pension fund’s eventual obligations. This 43.8% figure includes reasonable compound interest additions for the period up to pension payout. The other 56.2% is TRS’s unfunded liability, and the System will ask the State to appropriate money to cover the gap. The State of Illinois has appropriated $5.89 billion to cover a share of this gap for the current fiscal year, FY23. The TRS Board of Trustees has signaled that they will asked for $6.04 billion for the same purpose in FY24.

New outbreak of coronavirus at LaSalle Veterans Home. The troubled Illinois group-care home for U.S. veterans and their spouses was the site of a deadly outbreak of coronavirus two years ago. Now, a variant of the contagious virus has once again broken out at the LaSalle Veterans Home, located in north central Illinois. 23 staff members and 42 residents have tested positive in recent days for COVID-19. Residents of Illinois veterans homes include combat veterans of the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The LaSalle Veterans Home is operated by the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA), and the Department came under severe criticism for its LaSalle operations in an audit report released earlier this year. In the earlier outbreak, 36 veterans died from the virus. Numerous pandemic-related lawsuits have been filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs and the State of Illinois. News of the new outbreak of coronavirus at LaSalle was released on Tuesday, October 25.

Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) urges Halloween safety for October 31. Many beloved Halloween traditions require close adult supervision, or should be avoided altogether. They include dark and spooky Halloween parties, decorating a Halloween party location so as to block doorways that go in and out, candles with live flames in jack-o-lanterns, lighted pumpkins inside a house or adjacent to house or garage siding. The OSFM reports that, nationwide, approximately 900 annual U.S. house fires are started by decorations. Almost 400 of these annual fires are lit by candles.

For trick-or-treating, OSFM reminds parents to help the trick-or-treaters to choose safe costumes and behavior. Costume-wearers should keep away from jack o’lanterns with lighted candles. Masks and long, trailing fabrics should be closely supervised. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that Americans suffer approximately 3,200 Halloween-related injuries every year that require hospital treatment. The vast majority of these injuries are simple problems for which a patient is treated and released. Halloween is set for Monday, October 31.