SPRINGFIELD – The General Assembly must take action in light of an Illinois Supreme Court decision Aug. 25 against a redistricting referendum that would let citizens voice their opinion on the way legislative district boundaries are drawn.
Also during the week, the Governor signed legislation to protect communities from gun violence, take action in combatting human trafficking, and reform Illinois’ criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation and reduce recidivism.
In other news, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program will begin accepting applications for winter heating assistance for senior citizens and people with disabilities beginning Sept. 1.
Supreme Court rules against redistricting initiative
Though nearly 600,000 Illinoisans signed a petition to put a Fair Map Amendment on the ballot so that people—not politicians—draw legislative district maps, the Illinois Supreme Court voted 4-3 to throw out the Amendment Aug. 25.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Thomas wrote, “The Illinois Constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it.”
Justice Thomas noted that “the drafters of the 1970 Constitution foresaw just this problem and fashioned a clear and specific mechanism to insure that the legislature could never have the upper hand on the people of Illinois….I would honor that obligation and permit the ballot initiative proposed here to go forward.” Thomas stressed that “Today a muzzle has been placed on the people of this state.”
“It is truly disappointing and maddening that the Illinois Supreme Court has made a politically motivated decision to take the voters out of the redistricting debate,” said State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford). “It was back in January when Democratic President and former State Senator Barack Obama came to the Illinois Capitol and clearly stated that, ‘American politicians should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians.’ Yet Democrat lawyers and political leaders have decided that Illinois voters shouldn’t be allowed to cast their own vote on the idea.
Senator Syverson is urging his colleagues from both sides of the aisle to immediately take up legislation that would put a similar bipartisan redistricting effort on the ballot for the next election.
Protecting communities from gun violence
Strengthening laws against gun trafficking is the aim of a law signed Aug. 23 by the Governor to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and off our streets.
House Bill 6303 will help keep our kids and communities safe by allowing our law enforcement agencies to take action on those who are trafficking guns.
The new law enhances penalties for firearms trafficking and aims to reduce the growing gun violence epidemic. The new law makes it a felony for a person who has not been issued a FOID card to bring firearms into the state with the intention of selling or delivering them. Furthermore, if the individual trafficking in gun sales has previously been convicted of an unlawful use or delivery of a firearm, gunrunning or firearm trafficking, they will face even stiffer penalties. It is important to note that this bill does not take guns out of the hands of anyone that safely and legally has or carries a firearm. It exempts FOID card holders specifically for that reason.
Bill signed creating task force to combat human trafficking
Another new law seeks to help combat the growing problem of human trafficking across Illinois.
Signed Aug. 22, House Bill 2822 will help protect victims who often have language barriers, emotional challenges or economic hardships by creating a task force to look at how the State of Illinois can partner with agencies across the state to counter these egregious offenses of human exploitation.
House Bill 2822 establishes a human trafficking task force comprised of legislators, members of the Chicago Regional Human Trafficking Task Force and the Director of the Illinois State Police. The Department of Children and Family Services will also provide the Task Force with administrative and other support.
The Task Force shall submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly on or before June 30, 2017.
New laws advance reforms to Illinois’ criminal justice system
The Governor also recently signed a package of new laws seeking to reform Illinois’ criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation to reduce recidivism.
These new laws, coupled with administrative changes, make reforms in the criminal justice system that will help safely reduce the number of prison admissions, the length of prison stays and reduce recidivism by increasing the chances of successful re-entry.
Senate Bill 3164 requires review of a pre-sentencing report, as well as an explanation of why incarceration is appropriate for offenders with no prior probation sentences or prison convictions prior to sentencing. Last year, nearly 60 percent of new prison admissions for Class 3 or 4 felonies had no prior convictions for violent crimes. Sending low-level offenders with no prior probation or other convictions inefficiently uses prison resources and potentially makes low-level offenders more susceptible to reoffending.
House Bill 6291 changes the minimum probation period for a youth adjudicated delinquent to help bring Illinois in line with other states and the latest research, by reducing mandatory minimum lengths of probation and addressing low-level offenses with treatment. This ensures that youth struggling with addictions will have the opportunity for treatment before being sent to prison.
House Bill 5017 allows a juvenile to immediately petition the court for expungement when he or she is charged with an offense that is dismissed without a finding of delinquency. Under current law, the statute only allows for a petition of expungement when the youth has reached the age of 18. This bill will help youth who were arrested, but not charged, get a fresh start and clear their names.
House Bill 6200 addresses per minute rates of phone calls for inmates. The bill reduces the rate that the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice can contract for telephone providers.
Senate Bill 3005 amends the Park District Code to provide that a park district cannot knowingly employ a person who has been convicted of specified drug offenses until seven years following the end of a sentence imposed, including periods of supervision or probation. The previous law stated that park districts could not employ any person convicted of the specified drug offenses. It furthermore scales pack prohibitions on employment for convictions of public indecency to Class 4 felonies.
In 2014, Gov. Bruce Rauner created the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to create recommendations that would transform Illinois' justice system to make it more responsive to the people it served, while also cutting down on the unnecessary incarcerations and costs.
New law suspends fines for late vehicle registration renewals
The Secretary of State will be prohibited from imposing a delinquent registration renewal fee if a vehicle’s registration expires during a period of time in which no notice was sent to the vehicle owner.
Signed into law Aug. 25, House Bill 4334 was introduced in response to the Secretary of State’s decision to suspend registration reminder notices in an effort to save money during the long-lasted budget impasse. As a result, the Secretary of State’s office estimates that there were approximately 476,000 late registration fines assessed between January 1 and mid-July of 2016, which translates into late fees of upwards of $9 million. Additionally, motorists were at risk of being ticketed by law enforcement driving on an expired license.
The practice of mailing the reminders was halted in October and motorists were encouraged to sign up for electronic reminders.
Since the June 30 passage of the stopgap budget, the mailing of vehicle registration renewal notices has resumed.
Low Income Energy Assistance Program enrollment starts Sept. 1
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Energy Assistance has announced that the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will begin accepting applications for winter heating assistance for seniors and people with disabilities beginning September 1, 2016.
LIHEAP and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) program are funded as part of the stopgap funding plan signed into law by Gov. Rauner.
LIHEAP is a state and federally funded energy assistance program for low-income families, in which heating bill payments are made on behalf of households. Applications are processed through a network of 35 local administering agencies around the state. These agencies will begin accepting applications on a first-come, first-served basis from the elderly and people with disabilities starting on Sept. 1.
For a complete listing of LIHEAP’s local administering agencies and additional information about the program, go to http://www.illinois.gov/dceo/CommunityServices/UtilityBillAssistance/Pages/default.aspx or call the energy assistance toll-free hotline at 1-877-411-WARM.