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gov. Pritzker Signs SAFE-T Act Amendment Expanding ‘Detention Net’

CHICAGO — With three weeks to go before cash bail is set to end in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill amending the SAFE-T Act.

House bill 1095 what introduced last week and approved by the General Assembly on a party-line vote in on Dec. 1, the final day of veto session.

“We wanted to get it signed as fast as possible,” Pritzker said. “As almost as they were able to deliver it to me, I wanted to get it signed and out the door.”

State senators voted 38-17 to approve the bill, with three Democrats and one Republican not voting. The House approved bill 71-40, with one state representative from both parties not voting and five excused absences — four of which were Republicans.

Since bills adopted during the veto session require approval from three-fifths of both chambers to take effect immediately, the amendments passed with just two votes to spare in the Senate and none in the House.

The Pretrial Fairness Act, a portion of the SAFE-T Act, replaces the state’s system of allowing judges to order people charged with crimes to secure their pretrial release by posting a cash bond with an offense-based system that only allows judges to order defendants jailed while awaiting trial if they are a threat to the community, are evading prosecution or have violated an earlier court order.

Conservative political action committees campaigned on dire warnings of what would happen when parts of the bill ending cash bail take effect on Jan. 1, 2023, and Republican nominee for Gov. Darren Bailey said he would seek the remedy of the law. Backers of bail reform accused opponents of spreading fear and disinformation based on race and class.

The Illinois Supreme Court consolidated lawsuits filed by 62 of Illinois’ 102 county prosecutors into a single challenge to the law. A hearing in the case before Kankakee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cunnington is set for Dec. 20

Leading up to last month’s election, Pritzker said he would support an amendment to the bill but avoided getting into specifics publicly, other than to offer assurances that local officials they would not immediately have to release people accused of violent offenses on Jan. 1.

The amended law lays out a timeline for court hearings for those who remain on cash bonds when the law takes effect. Hearings have to take place within seven days for the lowest level of non-violent offenses. Defendants considered to be a flight risk are eligible for hearings within 60 days, and those charged with the most serious, violent crimes or who prosecutors consider to be a threat to the public are to have hearings within 90 days.

“I campaigned on clarifications that needed to be made to the SAFE-T Act. Some of it were things that I think everybody recognized. Let’s make sure everybody — judges, state’s attorneys, sheriffs, et cetera — understands these provisions,” Pritzker said .

“So maybe we need to write them in a way that’s just much clearer and has a little more detail to it, so I’m glad that we were able to get that done,” the governor told reporters Thursday at an unrelated news conference. “And again, because Jan. 1 is a date that is important in the SAFE-T Act, every day before that that we can get it signed and into law and considered, you know, as the judges and state’s attorneys effectuate it, is good for you.”

The amendment offers an expanded definition of “willful flight” and lays out a consistent standard of danger to the public that prosecutors must meet when seeking to have someone jailed while awaiting trial: “a real and present threat to any person or persons or the community , based on the specific, explainable facts of the case.”

More offenses have been added to what the previous bill described as a “detainable felony.” The changes expand the “detention net” — circumstances where a judge may deny pretrial release to a defendant — by adding a series of additional offenses and attempted offenses.

The changes also clarify the power of judges when it comes to electronic monitoring and escape and establishes a grant program to help public defenders with anticipated higher caseloads.

And the amended SAFE-T Act now lays out more specifics about officers’ ability to arrest someone who is accused of trespassing. Police can arrest someone if they are considered a threat to the community, have an obvious health issue or keep trespassing after they have already been issued a citation.

Related: SAFE-T Act Pretrial Release Rules Could Change Before They Take Effect

Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) the sponsor of the original SAFE-T Act, which passed in January 2021 during the final hours of the last General Assembly, thanked the governor and fellow state lawmakers for prioritizing the passage of an amendment that preserves protections for crime victims and reduces the criminalization of poverty.

“The SAFE-T Act was the result of hours of testimony and negotiations with domestic violence advocates, proponents of reform, law enforcement and states attorneys at the table working to create a pathway to a better and more equitable criminal legal system,” Sims said in a statement after the amendment’s signing. “However, due to the misinformation campaign led by opponents of the measure, we spent countless hours dispelling falsehoods and working to ensure that the law was not taken out of context.”

Pritzker said the bill will end a system where wealthy people can buy their way out of jail while awaiting trial for serious crimes and people without access to cash can be kept in jail when accused of nonviolent crimes. He told reporters he would consider the source of any complaints about its implementation next year.

“As with all laws, you know, we’re always going to be looking to see, you know, what’s working really well, and what things you know, are, maybe less so, and who it is that’s coming forward and saying, ‘This is problematic,'” Pritzker said. “The most important thing is we’re trying to make our neighborhoods and our communities safer all across the state of Illinois. This bill, this law and these amendments are designed to do just that.”

Related: SAFE-T Act Amendment Filed In Final Days Of 2022 Veto Session

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