With crime heating up as a red-hot political issue in Chicago, and elsewhere in Illinois, Springfield Republicans today moved to introduce a tough law-and-order package that would undo some of the criminal justice reforms Democrats just enacted.
In a series of news conferences and statements, Senate Republicans unveiled bills they said would boost funding for mental health and target gun traffickers, two things that some Democrats support. But the bulk of the package calls for longer minimum sentences for offenders, including life in prison for some second offenses such as aggravated carjacking. And it would allow counties to opt out of new state rules that sharply restrict the use of cash bail.
“Legislative leaders found time to ram through multiple controversial bills this year that do nothing to keep people safe,” said state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, in a morning news conference. Rose and four other GOP senators were to follow up with a second news conference this afternoon. “These bills will help our law enforcement community to finally stem the tide of violence that has washed over our state.”
Rose in his remarks particularly targeted Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park, challenging him to call the bills when the Legislature holds its fall veto session later this month.
“Harmon recently noted that he accomplished his goals for the last session. What wasn’t accomplished? Making the people of Illinois safer,” Rose said.
Harmon’s office did not have an immediate response. But Rose’s comments echo efforts by Republicans nationally and locally to make crime a major issue, with top Illinois GOP funder Ken Griffin, CEO of Chicago’s Citadel, yesterday ripping Gov. J.B. Pritzker for allegedly failing to deal with the crime issue. Pritzker’s office strongly disputed that.
Pritzker’s office did not have an immediate response to Rose, but charged that he voted against budgets that increased funding for local police and against violence prevention programs that reduce crime.
The new package also comes as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, both Democrats, escalate their feud over how to handle prosecution of violent offenders.
The major element in Rose’s package is $100 million in new state funding for local governments and universities to hire more police and purchase “equipment designed to prevent gang violence, motor vehicle theft, carjacking or sale of contraband.” Some of that money could be used for mental health, but according to Senate GOP staff, only for police or prisoners already in custody, not for those who have not been arrested.
Another key aspect would to bring back mandatory minimum sentences, something the country tried in previous decades but gradually has been phased out.
Anyone convicted of aggravated battery to a police officer or of bringing a weapon to a penal institution would have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. First-time offenders found guilty of aggravated discharge of a firearm, use of a stolen or illegally acquired firearm in the commission of an offense, or aggravated vehicular hijacking or carjacking would receive a minimum 10-year sentence, with life in prison for a second offense.
Those convicted of gun trafficking or arranging a straw purchase also would get a minimum 10-year sentence if they sold or gave a firearm to a convicted felon.
Bail would be denied for a convicted gun offender or felon charged with a new gun offense, and county boards by a majority vote would be able to opt out of new state laws that generally require those who cannot make cash bail to be released on electronic monitors.
Many of the ideas in the package have come before the General Assembly in one form or another in prior sessions and have not passed.
UPDATE: The Democrats aren’t impressed.
For instance, Pritzker’s office released a statement emphasizing that Republicans regularly have voted against proposed budgets that “invested record amounts of funding into gun violence prevention programs, increased investments in social services like mental health and substance abuse treatment and prioritized investments in communities grappling with higher crime rates because of years of disinvestment.” It adds: “The Senate Republicans have shown us time and time again they care more about getting headlines than supporting solutions.”
Harmon’s spokesman released a terse statement saying only that the GOP plan will get “appropriate review.”