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DeWitte: Lame-duck law enforcement bill doesn’t make sense

Recently, the Democrat majority in Springfield ram-rodded some of the most controversial legislation to overhaul Illinois’ law enforcement and criminal justice system during the lame-duck session – a time in which lawmakers, who haven’t been reelected or are retiring, are able to vote on legislation.

Under the cloak of darkness at 4 a.m. on the final day of the 101st General Assembly, the Democrat majority in the Senate snuck in nearly 800 pages of amendments to House Bill 3653 and called for legislators to vote on it an hour later.

The colossal legislation passed without media, vested parties or public input, and without a committee hearing and certainly without enough time for anyone to read it.

The issues the bill’s sponsors were trying to address are issues that I and many of my colleagues also care deeply about. Had the legislation gone through the open and transparent review process and allowed for greater discourse and negotiation between both sides of the aisle, it most certainly could have been passed with bipartisan support.

Instead, they favored a go-it-alone approach resulting in a product that many Democrats couldn’t even vote for, passing in the House with a zero-vote margin because it is not comprehensive or even financially and logistically sound.

For years, Illinois Republicans have been unfairly criticized as the party of “no.” But it is these kinds of politically expedient and well-orchestrated maneuvers – expecting us to read and understand hundreds of pages of legislation in an hour – that removes us from the process.

We want to work with our colleagues in the Senate to come up with bipartisan solutions to these very grave problems. Had we had any real input, we could have helped improve the legislation garnering more buy-in from our communities. These kinds of hasty legislative processes are unfair to the people who have elected me – and all legislators – to represent them.

However, not only was the process of passing this legislation outrageous and undemocratic, but the reforms found in House Bill 3653 are equally concerning.

HB 3653 eliminates cash bail completely by 2023, allows the filing of anonymous complaints without so much as a signature against police officers, and forces multiple unfunded mandates that essentially will act as a backdoor “defund the police” effort.

The complete elimination of cash bail will unnecessarily handcuff our judicial system. No other state in the country has moved to completely eliminate the practice because at times, it is an appropriate measure to ensure that dangerous individuals are not put back on the streets.

The state of New York passed a revamping of their bail system in 2019. By spring 2020, the state’s legislature rolled back some of the reforms after a significant spike in crime.

If the elimination of cash bail didn’t make this legislation controversial enough, the bill also removed the requirement of sworn affidavits for police misconduct complaints and instead, allows for the filing of anonymous complaints.

The law enforcement organizations that testified against this bill were afraid this change could result in officers hesitating to perform their duties out of fear of anonymous complaints.

Lastly, House Bill 3653 creates multiple unfunded mandates, including extra training and the use of body cameras. While I wholeheartedly support that law enforcement should wear body cameras and could benefit from additional training, I do not support imposing these requirements without a reliable revenue source built in to fund them.

These unfunded mandates will result in either an increase in local property taxes or fewer police officers on the streets keeping our communities safe.

I am urging the residents of Illinois, who want to keep our communities safe, to contact the governor’s office and ask him not to sign this ill-advised and hastily formulated piece of legislation.

My hope is that we can use the upcoming spring session to renegotiate criminal justice reform and come up with a bipartisan proposal that can be properly vetted by all the citizens of the state of Illinois.

• Illinois State Sen. Donald DeWitte, R-St. Charles, represents Illinois’ 33rd Senate District.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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