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Criminal Justice Reform bill heads to Governor’s desk

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JACKSON COUNTY (WSIL) -- A controversial Criminal Justice Reform bill is on its way to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk, after passing the General Assembly Wednesday morning.

Lawmakers had until noon, January 13, to pass this bill, which drew heavy criticism from Law Enforcement agencies across the board, as well as all, but two Illinois state's attorneys.

House Bill 3653 passed in both chambers along party lines, with some of its most significant changes to include the end of cash bail and ending qualified immunity, which protects officers from being held personally liable for constitutional violations.

Illinois State’s Attorneys Association president Justin Hood says, several components of the new bill will take effect immediately, while changes to subjects like pre-trial practices, will have two years before they are implemented.

"We understand that reform needs to be done," says Hood. "There's definitely time; and prosecutors and law enforcement agree that if there is a bad police officer out there that is getting by with hurting people, and getting by with committing crimes themselves and not being able to be held responsible for that, we understand that."

Hood adds that no one in law enforcement wants to work with "bad police officers that are harming people and violating civil rights."

Hood testified against the bill before lawmakers Saturday in opposition, saying it's more than law enforcement and state's attorney who say they were left out of the conversation in producing the bill.

Jackson County State's Attorney Joe Cervantez says his position is to keep the community safe, and the passage of this bill does not change that. He says those against passing the measure are concerned with implementing many of the new requirements should the governor sign it into law as it's currently written.

"We're going to continue doing what we're doing since I was sworn into office," says Cervantez. "That's making sure that when we encounter defendants that they're treated with equality and only with justice in mind."

Jackson County's newly elected State's attorney says House Bill 3653 grew from seven pages when it was introduced in 2019 to more than 760 pages when it passed Wednesday. Hundreds of those pages added with little-to-no time to review before it was voted on.

"Something this important, Criminal Justice Reform, something that's been in the spotlight for the first time, and rightfully so," explains Cervantez. "And yet, instead of thoughtfully progressing the issue of Criminal Justice Reform, we have to put a bill together from 7 pages to 747 pages, overnight."

Cervantez and all but two Illinois State's Attorney objected to passing the bill. State's Attorneys Association president Justin Hood says the size and scope--and timing, did not allow room for debate.

"To pass this thing overnight and add 80 pages, 80 plus pages to it, it's somewhat irresponsible," says Hood, adding that despite proponents claim, it's not scare tactics to point out the changes coming with the passage of this bill.

"There are scary examples that can come out of this and we're not trying to scare the public, the opponents aren't," says Hood. "What we're trying to do is get the information out there to the public, so they understand what is going on."

State's Attorney Joe Cervantez says the bill also puts into question who the voters will hold responsible for criminal justice in their community, when putting into practice the contents of its changes.

If signed into law, the bill is to go into effect July 1, 2021, with the exception of certain provisions that become effective over the following years.

Joe Rehana

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