SPRINGFIELD – On Thursday, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill banning deceptive police interrogation of minors. The measure, Senate Bill 2122, was unanimously approved by lawmakers earlier this year, and Illinois has been hailed as the first state in the nation to enact such a law.
Laura Nirider, a law professor and co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law where the bill was signed, said in Illinois alone there have been at least 100 recorded wrongful convictions that have been based on false confessions, including 31 cases in which a child falsely confessed.
The new law, which takes effect in January, makes a confession by a person under the age of 18 inadmissible in court if the officer who conducted the interrogation “knowingly engages in deception.”
Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, who sponsored the bill in the House, said aside from the obvious justice and public safety aspects of the bill, it is also prudent from a fiscal perspective, as wrongful incarceration is expensive and governments often have to pay large sums of money to settle lawsuits.
The deceptive interrogations ban was one of four bills signed Thursday by Pritzker, all of which were carried in the Senate by Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.
Senate Bill 2129: Pritzker also signed a measure allowing a state’s attorney to file a motion to resentence a defendant if the original sentence “no longer advances the interests of justice.”
“This bill allows prosecutors to consider factors including prison disciplinary records, proof of rehabilitation, and being a reduced risk to society due to age or health and to ensure that we continue to address mass incarceration and overly punitive sentences,” Pritzker said.
The process does not allow for a reopening of a conviction or for a longer sentence than what was initially given, and victims of the crime will still be afforded rights outlined in the Rights of Crime Victims and Witness Act.
Senate Bill 64: Another measure aims to encourage restorative justice by making “anything said or done” in the course of a restorative justice practice “privileged,” meaning it cannot be used “in any civil, criminal, juvenile, or administrative proceeding.”
Illinois first began using restorative justice courts in 2017. According to the Illinois State Bar Association, restorative justice is meant to bring together the offenders, victims and communities to “address and repair the harm.”
The legislation defines this practice as when “parties who have caused harm or who have been harmed and community stakeholders collectively gather to identify and repair harm to the extent possible, address trauma, reduce the likelihood of further harm, and strengthen community ties.”
House Bill 3587: The final bill signed by Pritzker creates a Resentencing Task Force to “study innovative ways to reduce the prison population in Illinois from initiations of resentencing motions filed by incarcerated individuals, state's attorneys, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the judicial branch,” according to the legislation.
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MARIJUANA LOTTERIES SCHEDULED: More than a year after new marijuana dispensary licenses were scheduled to be distributed per the state’s 2019 adult-use legalization law, the governor’s office announced the initial lottery and two new ones will happen by the end of August.
Pritzker signed House Bill 1443 Thursday, July 15, an effort to jumpstart the equity measures in the 2019 law that aimed to diversify the largely white, male-dominated legal marijuana industry.
Per the initial law, 75 dispensary licenses were to have been distributed over one year ago, but of the 900-plus applicants for those licenses, only 21 achieved the perfect score necessary to be entered into the final lottery. That caused the governor’s office to pause the final lottery amid backlash from equity advocates. That lottery will now be held Aug. 19 with all 21 finalists eligible to win licenses.
The first new lottery for 55 licenses includes any firm that scored at least an 85 percent on its initial application that has not hit a 10-license limit. That lottery will be held July 29.
The second new batch of 55 licenses would be available to firms that scored 85 percent or higher that also have at least 51 percent ownership meeting social equity requirements, including living in an area impacted by the war on drugs for at least 10 years, having been arrested or convicted of a marijuana crime eligible for expungement, or being a member of a family impacted by the war on drugs. That lottery is scheduled for Aug. 5.
The lotteries for all marijuana-related licenses will be managed by the Illinois Lottery and drawn by a randomized computer process.
The governor’s office also announced Thursday that the Illinois Department of Agriculture has reached out to 213 winners of other marijuana-related licenses. Those include 40 craft grow licenses – a grow operation with a smaller footprint than the massive cultivation centers – as well as 32 licenses for infusing other products such as foods or oils with marijuana and another 141 licenses to transport marijuana products.
The original legalization law also allowed up to eight community colleges in the state to receive licenses to develop a curriculum to train students in marijuana related fields. The new law signed Thursday removes that cap.
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LEGISLATIVE WATCHDOG RESIGNS: Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope resigned Wednesday, July 14, saying lawmakers were not serious about ethics reforms.
Pope, who had held the job since December 2018, said in a resignation letter to members of the Legislative Ethics Commission, which oversees the inspector general, that she was frustrated by the unwillingness of lawmakers to enact ethics reform measures that would have given her office more independent authority.
“This past legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority,” Pope wrote. “The LIG has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations. The position is essentially a paper tiger.”
The office of inspector general is overseen by an eight-member, bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the Legislative Ethics Commission, which must give its approval before the inspector general can launch an investigation.
During the spring legislative session, lawmakers passed an ethics bill, Senate Bill 539, which is awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature. It gives the inspector general independent authority to launch investigations, but only upon the filing of a formal complaint. It also makes a number of changes to financial disclosure requirements and limits the ability of lawmakers to leave office and immediately go to work as lobbyists.
However, the bill does not give the inspector general authority to issue subpoenas or release the results of an investigation without approval from a majority of the commissioners, powers that Pope had argued are needed for the office to be effective.
The bill also limits the inspector general’s jurisdiction to matters concerning a lawmaker’s public duties or use of state office or employment.
Asked about the bill during a news conference Thursday, Pritzker said it includes many provisions that he favors but conceded it does not go as far as he would have liked.
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REDISTRICTING LAWSUITS: Lawyers for plaintiffs and the state told a panel of federal judges Wednesday, July 14, the issues involved in two lawsuits challenging the state’s legislative redistricting plan are “straightforward” and ought to be resolved in short order.
But the three-judge panel hearing the case appeared uncertain about how much time they actually have, given the deadlines that are spelled out in the Illinois Constitution and the fact that lawmakers this year pushed back the 2022 primary by three months, to June instead of March.
The two lawsuits – one by Republican legislative leaders and another by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF – both argue that the new state House and Senate district maps violate the U.S. Constitution because they were drawn using survey data rather than official U.S Census numbers, which have been delayed this year due to the pandemic and other factors.
Both suits name the Illinois State Board of Elections and its individual members as well as Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon as defendants.
Those two cases have since been consolidated and assigned to a three-judge panel, as is required under federal law whenever a suit challenges the constitutionality of a redistricting plan. Those include Judge Robert Dow Jr., of the Northern District of Illinois; Judge Jon E. DeGuilio, of the Northern District of Indiana, and Judge Michael B. Brennan of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
After the hearing, the panel issued an order directing all parties to begin lining up their expert witnesses and setting a schedule of deadlines for filing briefs. The case is tentatively set for trial Sept. 27-29.
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EVICTION 'TRIAGE' PERIOD: With the state-imposed moratorium on residential evictions set to expire Aug. 1, the Illinois Supreme Court announced a plan Thursday, July 15, that provides an additional one-month “triage” period for tenants and landlords in certain cases to seek rental assistance.
Gov. JB Pritzker first issued an executive order prohibiting residential evictions in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That order has since been revised and extended several times.
On Wednesday, he announced that he plans to issue a new executive order on July 23 that will allow new eviction cases to be filed beginning Aug. 1 against people who are currently covered by the moratorium. That includes people whose income is below certain thresholds and who are unable to make their full rent or mortgage payment due to a COVID-19 related hardship.
However, a prohibition on enforcement of eviction orders against those people will remain in place through Aug. 31.
In an order released Thursday, the Supreme Court said during that window, it will implement a triage period in which Illinois courts will focus on referring newly filed cases to state programs providing financial assistance to landlords and tenants.
The order states that in any eviction case filed against a person covered under the current executive order, a landlord must certify that the defendant has provided with a tenant declaration form available through the Illinois Housing Development Authority stating that they are eligible for protection from eviction. Landlords also must certify that they either haven’t received the form back from the tenant or that some other exemption in the executive order applies in their case.
Also during August, all trials and judgments involving qualifying individuals will be under a temporary stay. Courts will be allowed to hear motions for default judgment against people who fail to appear at a scheduled hearing, but “only after the defendant is given notice to appear at a separate hearing on a motion for default.”
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PRITZKER SIGNS BILLS: Public high schools in Illinois will soon be required to teach students how to access and evaluate various kinds of news and social media they see online and elsewhere as part of their regular curriculum.
That was among the 53 bills that Gov. JB Pritzker signed on Friday, July 9, bringing the total number of bills signed from the current General Assembly so far this year to 97.
House Bill 234 provides that starting in the 2022-2023 school year, all public high schools will provide a unit of instruction on media literacy that will include instruction on how to access information and evaluate the trustworthiness of its source; analyzing and evaluating media messages; creating media messages; assessing how media messages trigger emotions and behavior; and social responsibility.
The State Board of Education is tasked with preparing and distributing instructional resources and making professional learning opportunities available for educators.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, and Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago. It passed both chambers largely along party lines: 68-44 in the House, and 42-15 in the Senate.
ENDANGERD ANIMAL TRAFFICKING BAN: Another new law makes it illegal to import into Illinois, with the intent of selling, any body parts or products made from a long list of endangered and exotic species.
Illinois, like many states, has long banned the importation of ivory and rhinoceros horns. Under House Bill 395, the list of animals whose parts or products are banned from being imported is expanded to include cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, great apes, hippopotami, jaguars, leopards, lions, monk seals, narwhals, pangolins, rays or sharks, rhinos, sea turtles, tigers, walruses, whales or any other species listed in the Convention on International Trade or listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Martin Moylan, D-Des Plaines, and Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora. It passed the House, 113-1, and the Senate, 57-0.
NO MORE ACT REQUIREMENT: Illinois residents applying for admission to public colleges and universities in the state will no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their application starting in January 2022.
House Bill 226, known as the Higher Education Fair Admissions Act, requires all public higher education institutions to adopt a “test optional” policy for admissions, meaning they may not require students to submit standardized test scores, but may allow students to do so if they choose.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, and Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Cahokia Heights. It passed the House, 109-8, and the Senate, 45-9.
ALTERED ATHLETIC UNIFORMS: Student athletes in both public and nonpublic schools are now allowed to alter their athletic or team uniforms for purposes of modesty, in accordance with their religion, cultural values or modesty preferences.
House Bill 120, which was sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, and Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, provides that modifications can include such things as hijabs, undershirts or leggings. Any modifications, however, may not interfere with the student’s movement or pose a safety hazard to the student or other athletes or players. There are also limits on how headgear can be modified.
Students who choose to modify their uniforms are responsible for all of the additional costs, unless the school chooses to cover the cost.
EARLIER SCHOOL ZONE TIMES: Drivers passing through school zones will have to slow down a little earlier on school days under another bill Pritzker signed into law.
House Bill 343, by Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, and Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel, D-Shorewood, provides that special speed limits around schools will begin at 6:30 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. The new law takes effect immediately.
The bill passed both chambers unanimously.
DCFS FINANCIAL AID APPLICATIONS: High school seniors who are in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services can be assured that they will have applications for student financial aid filled out by the time they are ready to apply to college.
Senate Bill 63, by Sen. Robert Peters and Rep. Curtis Tarver, both Chicago Democrats, requires that, beginning in 2022, DCFS will ensure that every youth in care in Illinois who is entering their final year of high school, will complete a Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid or an application for state financial aid no later than Nov. 1 of their final year.
The bill passed both chambers unanimously.
LEMONADE STAND DEREGULATION: And children operating lemonade stands will no longer need to worry about first getting a permit.
Senate Bill 119, by Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, and Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, provides that neither the Department of Public Health nor any local health department or public health district may regulate the sale of lemonade, nonalcoholic drinks or mixed beverages by a person under the age of 16.
The new law has been dubbed “Hayli’s Law,” after a 12-year-old girl whose lemonade stand in Kankakee was shut down by local officials, according to an article on the Illinois Senate Democrats website.
The bill passed both chambers unanimously.
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UNEMPLOYMENT DEFICIT: Since economic shutdowns began and COVID-19 death counts started to rise in March 2020, national unemployment rates have hovered at historically high numbers, stressing state unemployment systems left dealing with an unprecedented number of claims.
In Illinois, that’s led to a deficit in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund – or the pool of money used to sustain the social safety net – that could rise to $5 billion.
Stakeholders from both political parties, as well as business and labor groups, are now warning of “crippling” tax increases on businesses and cuts to unemployment benefits that could result if the ongoing deficit goes unaddressed for too long.
But even as the deficit continues to grow amid still-high unemployment rates, state lawmakers have not set a clear path forward for digging out of the historic hole.
“I think a larger discussion has to begin sooner rather than later, but we're kind of waiting on, you know, getting a total handle on the size of the problem,” Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Swansea Democrat and assistant majority leader who is a lead House negotiator on unemployment insurance issues, said in a phone interview.
Meanwhile, the state also faces looming interest payments that are likely to cost tens of millions of dollars annually on more than $4 billion of federal borrowing undertaken to pay out benefits at the height of the pandemic.
Lawmakers and stakeholders reached by Capitol News Illinois said they were hopeful for another round of federal aid, this time targeted to shore up trust funds nationwide. Failing that, members of both parties believe the state should use a large portion of its remaining federal American Rescue Plan Act funds – a sum of more than $5 billion of the $8.1 billion allocated to the state – to address the deficit.
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ASIAN AMERICAN HISTORY: All public schools in Illinois will soon be required to teach a unit on Asian American history and culture as part of their social studies curriculum.
Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, July 9, signed a bill known as the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History, or TEAACH Act, into law, making Illinois the first state in the nation to enact such a requirement.
The bill, House Bill 376, was sponsored by two Asian American legislators, Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, and Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago.
Gong-Gershowitz, a third-generation Chinese American, said the bill was prompted in part by the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States that arose during the pandemic.
Gong-Gershowitz related her own family history from the time her grandfather came to the U.S. in the 1920s, about 40 years after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first major federal legislation restricting immigration. But she said she never learned about that, or about the constitutional issues surrounding the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, until she was in law school.
Under the new law, beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, all public elementary schools and high schools in Illinois will be required to teach one unit that focuses on the events of Asian American history from the 19th century to the present, including the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest, as well as the contributions Asian Americans have made toward advancing civil rights.
The law also provides that the coursework will include the contributions made by individual Asian Americans in government, art, humanities and science as well as the contributions of Asian American communities to the economic, cultural, social and political development of the U.S.
It also tasks the State Board of Education with preparing and distributing instructional materials that local districts can use as guidelines as they develop their own curriculum.
Carmen Ayala, the state superintendent of education, praised passage of the new law and noted that the majority of Illinois students – about 53 percent, according to data from ISBE – are now people of color.