SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) – Senate Democrats filed an amendment they believe fixes the problems that have plagued the SAFE-T Act for months.
Early Wednesday morning, Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago) filed an amendment clarifying several items in the SAFE-T Act. Most of the changes in the amendment focus on tightening up vague language that left law enforcement and prosecutors confused about how the new system would work.
“The idea is that, again, we still have a detention that that is very clear, judges have discretion within that detention,” Peters said. “And they have discretion with a little bit more clarifying in the ‘willful flight’ standard to be able to detain people, but again, the intent and the core parts of this legislation remain intact.”
Over the summer, claims that police could not arrest trespassers under the new law ran rampant. The Supreme Court ruled that officers did have discretion to arrest in those cases, but the amendment makes it clear they will have the power to arrest anyone if they decide they pose a risk to the people around them.
The law also sets clear guidelines for what happens to the people in jail currently awaiting trial once Jan. 1 hits. Anybody in jail on Jan. 1 will get a pre-trial release hearing within at most 90 days starting from the first of the year if this amendment passes.
More felonies were also included into what is called the detention net, or the list of offenses that qualify somebody as a “real and present threat to the safety of any person or persons or the community”, and therefore should not get released pre-trial. Some of these felonies include second degree murder, aggravated driving under the influence, and burglary.
Legislators also changed the language for prosecutors detaining people they have evidence they view as a safety threat.
“At all pretrial hearings, the prosecution shall have the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that any condition of release is necessary,” the amendment reads.
Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign), who previously filed an amendment on behalf of the state’s attorneys, has also signed on a co-sponsor to the bill. He says he’s glad to have found a compromise.
“I think we’re at a point where the law enforcement groups as well as the defense advocacy groups feel like they are neutral on the on this version of the bill,” Bennett said. “And I think that’s what we’re shooting for, in any legislation of this size, where everybody gets something they want, but nobody gets everything they want.”
Champaign County State’s Attorney and president of the Illinois State’s Attorney Association Julia Rietz said while state’s attorneys were unsatisfied with some parts of the amending bill, she found the bill to be a good compromise.
“It’s definitely a more workable process, something I think that achieves the goals of everyone involved in the criminal justice system,” she said. “It certainly achieves the goals of those who want to move away from cash bail.”
Republicans were largely not included in the closed-door discussions for the bill and are expressing feelings of exclusion.
“How many more do we have to have before they realize that, oh, maybe we should invite some more people with different perspectives into the discussions,” Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield) said.
House Democrats have also signaled they approve of the Senate’s amendment.
“It is certainly a win for all of Illinois, given the fact that we are centering people that are engaging in our justice system in a way that they have never been able to be centered before,” Representative Jehan Gordon Booth (D-Peoria) said, who led a House working group amending the SAFE-T Act. “At the very same time, giving law enforcement and our State’s Attorneys the ability to actually hold those individuals who we deemed to be the most violent in our communities, actually in jail in a way that we’ve never been able to do before.”
A vote on the bill is expected to happen Thursday in both chambers.