After strengthening their supermajorities in the General Assembly and re-electing Gov. JB Pritzker, Illinois Democrats returned to Springfield on Tuesday for the veto session, with questions about whether or not they will make changes to a controversial bill that has become a hot-button issue was during the campaign.
That bill, the “SAFE-T Act,” would eliminate cash bail on Jan. 1 in Illinois. Instead, judges will be required to determine whether defendants pose risks to individuals or the public at large, or if they pose a flight risk.
Legal challenges to the bill remain ongoing, but Democrats in Springfield are warning voters not to expect a major overhaul of the legislation at this point.
“We have learned from the past that the current cash bail system is unfair,” said state representative LaShawn Ford. “It’s about making sure we bring everyone to the table. Everyone is going to be in Springfield who has an interest in improving the SAFE-T Act, and we are going to listen and work together.”
Ford says the provisions in the bill that require judges to evaluate whether a defendant is a risk to the public should remain in place, and stressed that he does not believe any of the language eliminating cash bail should be removed from the legislation will not be deleted.
Those who supported the bill argued that the current cash bail system disproportionately impacts poorer Illinois residents, and that the new system would add fairness to the criminal justice system.
Pritzker, for his part, said he believed lawmakers would evaluate the bill, but he did not provide many details about what those changes might entail.
“I will look carefully, and I have made my mind clear,” he said. “We’ll see if we can get something done during the veto session to address the changes we should be making.”
However, the legal challenges to the bill remain ongoing. More than half of the state’s attorneys in Illinois have filed suit against Pritzker and his administration, arguing that the SAFE-T Act violates the state constitution on multiple fronts.
One of the legal arguments is that the elimination of cash bail itself is unconstitutional because it is mentioned in the document itself, which may require additional steps to undo. The other argument is that lawmakers did not take the necessary time to debate the bill before it was passed.
The cases have been combined into one class action, with opponents of the bill set to make legal arguments in a Kankakee courtroom on Dec. 7.
Meanwhile, lawmakers may wait until after Thanksgiving before making any adjustments to the SAFE-T Act for debate or a vote, but what exact changes might be offered remain unclear as the session continues.