On the final day of their fall veto session, Illinois lawmakers approved changes to the SAFE-T Act, advanced a $1.8 billion unemployment fund bailout, and unveiled a massive gun control bill.

Thursday was the last of six days this year when legislators can pass, amend, or veto new or existing legislation. The duration of the veto session that started on Nov. 15 is much more condensed than the multi-month regular session and differs in how legislation is passed. For any bill to pass, a three-fifths majority in the House and the Senate must be met.

Both Chambers Approve SAFE-T Act Amendment

The Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly approved a series of changes to the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today Act, or the SAFE-T Act.

The amendment clarifies the following:

  • Process for shifting from the cash bail system to one that sets out specific criteria for judges to determine whether defendants should be incarcerated while awaiting trial.
  • Standards that judges must follow when considering whether a defendant presents a danger to the public, and adds several offenses for which judges can detain someone.
  • Defendants accused of nonviolent offenses must have their hearings within seven days, while those deemed a flight risk must appear in court within 60 days. Defendants considered a safety threat must have a hearing within 90 days.
  • Police can arrest people for misdemeanors if officers believe “the accused poses a threat to the community or any person” or if “criminal activity persists.” An arrest can also be made if the alleged offender has “obvious medical or mental health issues” that risk their safety.

The SAFE-T Act addresses inequities in the criminal justice system that advocates say disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities and other underrepresented or impoverished groups who can’t afford to post bail.

The amendment now needs the signature of a Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Billion Dollar Unemployment Fund Bailout

State lawmakers began appropriating the funds for a plan to pay down Illinois’ unemployment debt after a billion-dollar-plus bipartisan package moved through the General Assembly.

The state’s unemployment trust fund went from a surplus exceeding $1 billion to a deficit of $4.5 billion during the economic shutdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two bills call for using $1.8 billion from excess revenues the state has seen this year to pay off the remaining $1.37 billion owed to the federal government, plus a zero-interest loan to the trust fund to be paid back over the next ten years.

House amendments to Senate Bill 1698 authorized the structure of the program. It passed both chambers on Thursday.

A separate bill containing the actual appropriation, an amendment to Senate Bill 2801, cleared the Senate, but due to procedural rules, the House was not allowed to vote on it immediately. 

It’s expected that the lower chamber will take up the bill during a lame-duck session planned for the first week of January.

Gun Control Bill

Five months after the Highland Park mass shooting, new legislation was introduced to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The bill also eliminates the ability of most people under 21 to obtain a gun permit in the state.

Seven people were killed and dozens of others injured on a Fourth of July parade by a shooter using an assault-style rifle and high-capacity magazines.

The proposal would allow people under 21 to obtain a FOID card only if they are active duty members of the U.S. military or the Illinois National Guard. The measure would also strengthen the state’s firearm restraining order law by extending the period for someone to be barred from possessing a gun from six months to a year and by giving local prosecutors a more significant role in the process.

The alleged Highland Park shooter was 19 when he obtained a firearm owner’s identification card with parental consent, which is allowed under current state law.

It is still being determined if the measure will be addressed in early January or put off after the new legislature is seated on Jan. 11.

Cover Photo: Frank Butterfield

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