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More meetings set to discuss Illinois’ no cash bail law

The Center Square

Changes are expected to the SAFE-T Act, but what those will be and when they’ll come up remain unclear.

Illinois is the first state to impose no cash bail for some criminal suspects with the Pretrial Fairness Act. That’s one of several provisions of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity Today Act lawmakers passed during the final hours of the previous legislature in January 2021.

State Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield) hosts a town hall in Springfield on Wednesday with officials from local law enforcement.

“It needs to be repealed entirely and started over from scratch,” McClure told WMAY. “It contradicts itself, it’s confusing.”

McClure’s is one of several recent or planned town hall-type events surrounding the issues. In Crystal Lake on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) and state Sen. Craig Wilcox (R-McHenry) host a town hall meeting. Even candidates for office are holding town halls. Stephanie Hood is hosting a virtual town hall on the issue at midday Wednesday.

Last week, state Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) was part of a virtual forum of supporters and advocates. He called the SAFE-T Act transformative.

“We can’t try to convince people who were never going to be with us in the first place. That’s a waste of time and a waste of energy,” Peters said.

Conversations about a trailer bill continue behind the scenes. Even Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signaled they will look at state Sen. Scott Bennett’s Senate Bill 4228. But, a coalition of SAFE-T Act proponents pushed back Tuesday, calling the measure misguided.

“We all agree that a presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of our criminal legal system and any legitimate democratic government. That’s why it’s unthinkable that our elected State’s Attorneys have drafted a bill that creates a presumption of detention,” said Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. “Not only is it unconstitutional but it contradicts the democratic institutions our criminal legal system is ostensibly supposed to protect.”

The group, with support from state Reps. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) and Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) laid out their concerns with Bennett’s measure. They say it removes requirements for victims to be notified about detention hearings, creates a system “where low-level, nonviolent cases will clog up our pretrial detention system” and creates a presumption of detention they say is unconstitutional.

Incumbent Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul had some suggested changes at a recent forum. He said clarity needs to come in areas of how police can act upon trespassing and on which suspects are let go with no cash bail after being arrested.

“There could be some language changes with regards to people who may be a threat to the public at large or to an individual,” Raoul said earlier this month.

His opponent, Thomas DeVore, says the SAFE-T Act should be repealed. He notes lawsuits against the measure are pending in court.

The measure takes effect on Jan. 1. Lawmakers are back the week after the election. McClure said they should come back with fixes before the election.

“The SAFE-T Act basically tries to not hold people accountable for their crimes,” McClure said. “Don’t you think that we should hold the people voting on the SAFE-T Act accountable when they vote before the election?”

The election is on Nov. 8. Lawmakers return to Springfield on Nov. 15.

Associate Editor Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.

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