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CAPITOL RECAP: SAFE-T Act with Pritzker; unemployment debt deal advances

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

Lawmakers on Thursday passed a long-awaited amendment to the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform’s provisions that will eliminate cash bail when the calendar hits 2023.

The measure expands the list of crimes for which a judge can order pretrial detention, adds to what a judge can consider when determining if a defendant is a risk of willful flight from prosecution, and standardizes language regarding a defendant’s danger to the public safety among several other changes.

The measure will still end the existing wealth-based system of pretrial detention in favor of one based on an offender’s level of risk to the public or of fleeing prosecution.

It passed the Senate 38-17 just before 2 p.m., then passed the House 71-40 just before 5:30 p.m. It will still require a signature from the governor to become law.

Trade groups for state’s attorneys and law enforcement, as well as pretrial justice advocates who were on the other side of the issue, adopted a stance of neutrality.

The bill didn’t receive any Republican support.

Most of the language addressed several concerns cited by state’s attorneys and others, including worries that the original law’s vague wording could lead to mass release of individuals being held in lieu of bail when the calendar hits Jan. 1.

The new measure clarifies the changes that will apply to those charged with crimes after that date. Those who were held in lieu of bail before 2023 will be able to petition to have their case moved to the new system.

It adds clarifying language regarding part of the bill which some had read as preventing police from arresting a trespasser.

While it maintains language instructing officers to issue a citation in lieu of custodial arrest for cases below Class A misdemeanors, it also specifies that police maintain discretion to make an arrest if the person is a threat to the community or they continue to break the law.

The bill states a person to be held based on dangerousness must be proven to be a “real and present threat to the safety of any person or persons or the community, based on the specific articulable facts of the case.”

All people charged with “forcible felonies” and non-probationable offenses may be detained under the dangerousness standard. Individuals accused of domestic violence may also be held pretrial.

It adds hate crimes, felony animal torture, aggravated DUI causing bodily harm, DUI while operating a school bus and other DUI charges as detainable offenses if the defendant is deemed dangerous.

Republicans criticized the measure’s approach to the crime of burglary. The bill states residential burglary or burglary “where there is use of force against another person” are detainable under the dangerousness standard. But if a burglary doesn’t meet those criteria, such as someone stealing change from an unlocked car, it’s not detainable based on an offender’s risk of danger to the community.

The offense would still be detainable under a “willful flight” standard, and anyone already out on pretrial release can be detained when charged with any crime. Per the law, “willful flight” means “intentional conduct with a purpose to thwart the judicial process to avoid prosecution.”

The amendment expands existing law to state “isolated” non-appearances are not evidence of willful flight, but “patterns of intentional conduct to evade prosecution …may be considered as factors in assessing future intent to evade prosecution.”

The amendment also allows more hearings to be conducted remotely, a measure at least partially spurred by an anticipated increase in workload for the court system.

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UNEMPLOYMENT DEBT: Lawmakers on Thursday advanced a bipartisan plan to use state revenues to pay down the remaining $1.4 billion in debt taken on by the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unemployment trust fund is generally funded by the state’s businesses through insurance premiums collected via payroll taxes.

A $1.8 billion state cash appropriation – the funding backbone of the bipartisan agreement between business and labor – would be included in a supplemental funding plan to spend the current year’s anticipated budget surplus. That measure passed the Senate and will await House action some time next year.

Over the next five years or more, the agreement announced Tuesday is expected to save businesses from approximately $915 million in tax increases they would have otherwise seen had the state not taken any action.

That’s according to Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, who was one of the lead negotiators on the business side of the bill.

The other part of the agreement passed both Houses this week, heading to the governor. It would increase an employee’s “taxable wage base” – which is the amount of an employee’s wages for which an employer must pay unemployment taxes – by 2.4 percent for each of the next five years. It would also increase the target balance of the fund’s reserves from $1 billion to $1.75 billion.

It does not decrease the number of weeks or maximum amounts of benefits an unemployed person can receive.

It’s the final step in paying down approximately $4.5 billion in debt to the federal government that the state’s unemployment trust fund incurred since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders shut down the state’s economy and sent unemployment rates skyrocketing.

Gov. JB Pritzker was flanked by several Republicans to announce the agreement Tuesday between parties and business and labor interests.

Even with the latest announced action, Karr said, Illinois businesses are likely to see an increase of $114 million for the upcoming fiscal year. That’s because the state missed a Nov. 10 deadline that would have prevented it from becoming a “credit reduction state” in the eyes of the federal government.

What that means is a Federal Unemployment Tax Act tax credit for Illinois businesses will decrease by 0.3 percent, resulting in an increase of $21 in federal taxes per employee.

But, Karr said, if the actions announced by lawmakers this week become law, those increased tax payments from Illinois businesses will be directed to the state’s trust fund balances, rather than to the federal government.

Also as part of the agreement, the $450 million in state revenue to supplement the trust fund balance will be in the form of a no-interest loan. It is to be repaid over 10 years as a deposit in the state’s “rainy day” fund.

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DCFS CONTEMPT: An appellate court on Wednesday reversed several contempt of court citations that were filed in recent months against Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith for failing to comply with court orders to place state wards in appropriate settings.

The court found that Smith did not willfully ignore a Cook County judge’s order to move children who were discharged from psychiatric hospitals into group homes or residential settings. He was just unable to do it.

The opinion written by First District Appellate Court Justice Joy Cunningham stated that for a judge to find a party in contempt there must be an order of the court and proof of willful disobedience of that order. The appellate court found that DCFS did try to comply with the court orders, but it acknowledged that those efforts “fell woefully short of expectations.”

In each case where Cook County Judge Patrick Murphy cited Smith for indirect civil contempt and fined him $1,000 per each day the kids remained hospitalized, he also acknowledged that DCFS was actively engaged in trying to secure appropriate placements for the minors.

Murphy found that Smith was in contempt for failing to comply with the court’s order, opining that DCFS had “ignored the trial court’s orders.” Cunningham wrote that such a ruling was “inconsistent with the record.”

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, whose office represents state wards, including eight children involved in 10 contempt citations, said Wednesday that he will ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision.

While the court opinion was a win for DCFS, Cunningham also called the agency’s efforts to place the children “seemingly inefficient” and “clearly ineffective.”

The ruling found that while the contempt citations may have been issued in error, Murphy’s efforts were meant to force Smith and the agency into action in these cases to address “a serious widespread problem.”

The appellate court also noted that the eight minors were ultimately placed in appropriate settings.

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RUSSIAN DIVESTMENT: The Illinois House gave final passage Wednesday, Nov. 30, to a bill aimed at prohibiting state investment in assets tied to Russia and Belarus in retaliation for their participation in the war in Ukraine.

House Bill 1293, by Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago, urges the state’s five retirement systems to divest their holdings in companies domiciled in either of those countries as well as their sovereign debt, and prohibits them from making new investments there.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and at times has used Belarus, with that government’s permission, as a staging ground for incursions from the north.

As of Nov. 7, the war had resulted in an estimated 6,490 civilian deaths, with another 9,972 civilians injured, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Millions more have been displaced from their homes or fled the country.

The bill urges, but does not explicitly require, all state pension funds and retirement systems “to divest their holdings in any companies that are domiciled in Russia or Belarus” while also urging all Illinois municipalities to reconsider any sister-city relationships they may have with cities in Russia.

A spokesman for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, the state’s largest pension fund, said in an email that the system’s total exposure in Russian assets is only about $4.27 million, or 0.007 percent of the fund’s total portfolio. It has no investments in Belarus.

Public colleges and universities would also be required to disclose to the Board of Higher Education any endowment or other donation they receive from any company that is domiciled in or has its principal place of business in Russia or Belarus.

The bill also urges the U.S. State Department to resettle Ukrainian refugees in Illinois while giving the Illinois Department of Human Services authority to adopt emergency rules to ensure availability of refugee resettlement services.

Additionally, the bill creates an Elections and Infrastructure Integrity Task Force to prepare for and prevent foreign interference in elections.

It also creates a Money Laundering in Real Estate Task Force to identify vulnerabilities in the real estate sector that facilitate money laundering.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

 

 

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