POLITICS

Illinois General Assembly Passes Sweeping Criminal Reform Bill

House Bill 3653, which now heads to the governor's desk, would end cash bail and require all police officers to wear body cameras.

Propelled by the Black Lives Matter movement and public outrage over the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police officers, the Illinois General Assembly passed sweeping criminal justice reforms on Wednesday that would end cash bail and require all police officers to wear body cameras, among other measures.

House Bill 3653, which was authored by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, was approved by the state Senate and then the state House on Wednesday. The bill now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who praised the legislation after the House vote.

“This criminal justice package carries with it the opportunity to shape our state into a lesson in true justice for the nation,” Pritzker said in a statement.

He did not say definitively that he would sign the bill into law, however.

Among other changes, H.B. 3653 would abolish cash bail, require all police officers in the state to wear body cameras by 2025 and introduce new guidelines for the “decertification” of police officers. 

State Sen. Elgie R. Sims Jr., a co-sponsor of the bill, said he believed the legislation to be “the first step to transforming criminal justice in Illinois in a way that will uplift our communities and support our law enforcement professionals.”

“This increases accountability and transparency in law enforcement, modernizes our bail and sentencing systems, and provides for greater protections and more humane treatment of those who have been arrested and accused of crime,” Sims, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) celebrated the passage of the bill, calling it a “big step forward” for Illinois.

“Onward on our journey toward reform and accountability,” she wrote on Twitter. 

Many Republican lawmakers and law enforcement groups opposed the bill, with some critics saying it was passed too quickly and without sufficient debate. 

The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, which consists of police unions and organizations representing law enforcement leadership, said in a statement that legislators had “made Illinois less safe.” 

Republican state Rep. Tom Weber echoed this sentiment, calling the bill “dangerous” and one that would make “every community less safe.”  

“Public safety budgets will be cut, unfunded mandates will be poured on local communities and police, and officers could be subjected to punishment and held personally liable for unsubstantiated or unverifiable complaints. However, perhaps the worst part, many violent felons will be able to walk free before trial,” Weber said, referring to the abolishment of cash bail requirements.

In contrast, Democratic state Rep. Justin Slaughter, a co-sponsor of the bill, said getting rid of cash bail would bring more equity and humanity to the criminal justice system.

“What we do know is that it is inhumane to subject anyone to pretrial detention before their hearing. In this country you are innocent before proven guilty,” Slaughter said, according to WGLT.