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Arlington Heights Daily Herald. December 3, 2022.
No one could realistically have expected that modifications considered and ultimately approved for the controversial SAFE-T Act would satisfy all the lawís critics, and they didnít. Is it enough to say that many opponents acknowledge that the new version is at least an improvement?
The amended bill passed Thursday by overwhelming majorities — 38-17 in the Senate and 71-40 in the House — but the numbers are a bit misleading because Democrats dominate the General Assembly so formidably. Not a single Republican voted for the law in either chamber, and many grumbled, while admitting that the new version is better than the original, that their party was excluded from discussions about the changes.
But it is not true that critics had no influence at all. Many of the changes clearly aim to respond to fears raised during the fall election campaign, and stateís attorneys and other law enforcement representatives did participate in the monthslong negotiations on amendments. Considering that 100 of 102 Illinois county stateís attorneys had opposed the original version, the fact that many of them, along with other previous opponents, officially altered their position to ìneutralî seems to be worth something. Though, as state Sen. Don DeWitte, a St. Charles Republican, indicated in a statement, ìsomethingî is hardly a ringing endorsement of the law.
ì(Key stakeholders) recognize the remaining shortcomings of this massive rewrite of our stateís criminal code,î DeWitte said. ìDemocrats are kidding themselves to suggest these neutral agency positions suggest support for the ongoing erosion of public safety across our state.î
Whether the bill represents an erosion of protections or, as supporters contend, actually makes the state more safe is the key factor that remains to be seen.
Itís important that the amended bill provides judges greater latitude in determining whether certain defendants should be detained before trial, clarifies the crimes and circumstances for which suspects can be held and gives police better instructions and more options when arresting crime suspects. The question keeps coming back to whether such tweaks will be enough.
Opponents of money bail make a compelling case about the inequalities inherent in a system that can require one suspect to be jailed and another facing the same charges freed simply because the latter can afford it. But they still have not made such a convincing case that the remedies encoded in the SAFE-T Act wonít lead to other problems.
ìWeíve created a detention net — that detention net still has holes,î Rep. Patrick Windhorst, a Metropolis Republican and former prosecutor, said of the new law. ìAnd what that means is weíll see those holes in the detention net and weíll be back in a year to try to patch the hole, and then weíll find another hole.î
Maybe. Maybe not.
Thatís far from the analysis we wish lawmakers had left us with regarding a subject so important as public safety, so, to return to our original question, no, the changes are not enough. But until we see their practical effect, theyíll have to do.