SPRINGFIELD — Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson will testify at an Illinois Senate hearing on Thursday in his push for lawmakers to pass a bill to impose harsher sentences on repeat gun offenders.
And Illinois Senate Democrats say they hope to approve the measure as soon as Thursday.
The bill is supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Johnson and is being led by state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, and Sen. Antonio Munoz, D-Chicago, in the Senate. It aims to direct judges to use longer sentences for those with prior gun-related convictions. While judges will use their own discretion, the bill may require them to explain their decisions.
The bill doesn’t change existing sentencing ranges but instructs the courts that repeat gun offenders should receive sentences in a new range. Offenders charged with unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon currently are sentenced to between three and 14 years. The bill recommends that repeat offenders receive seven to 14 years instead. Those charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon — as repeat offenders — would receive a sentence of six to seven years instead of three to seven years.
Raoul on Wednesday called the bill a bipartisan effort, and said it includes a number of recommendations made by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s criminal justice reform commission.
“I think there are some people who oppose it by perception because there have been historically some bills that have taken a different approach to the problem by casting a net too wide,” Raoul said. “I think this bill recognizes the shortcomings of previous bills, and we tried to narrow in on repeat gun offenders instead of just casting a net to just everybody.
“This is something that sends a message to the judiciary that these class of offenders are more likely to be shooters than the general public.”
Critics of the effort say the root causes of violence need to be delved into, and imposing longer prison terms isn’t the only solution. But Raoul stressed that the bill is more about a collection of reforms that he believes will make a difference.
Other provisions in the bill include reforms to address disproportionate sentencing, providing incarcerated offenders with more programming and providing lower-risk offenders with opportunities after mandatory supervised release. It would allow the Illinois Prisoner Review Board to terminate a person’s mandatory supervised release after a risk assessment tool determined that person is considered low risk.
Johnson has voiced his frustration about the slow pace of the bill. Last month, the superintendent said families of murder victims are very concerned with repeat gun offenders going in and out of custody.
“Right now, when I go into homes on the South and West sides of Chicago, those mothers aren’t asking me about long-term solutions. ‘What are you going to do about the economic development of this neighborhood?’ They don’t ask me about that,” Johnson said.
“They want to know, ‘How come that guy that killed my son is still out there? And you all know who it is, I know who it is. Why did you all lock him up, and now he’s right back out on the street?’ They want to know the answer to that.”
Johnson has said there are about 1,500 people on the department’s “strategic subject list” who are responsible for most of the city’s violent crime. The proposed bill would target those people.
While the Illinois House has tried to pass similar legislation, there is no current House bill targeting repeat gun offenders. On the House floor on Tuesday, however, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, implored legislators to get moving on a bill before another deadly summer hits the city. According to Sun-Times data, there were about 235 murders in Chicago last summer in addition to two people fatally shot by police.
“We have a summer approaching in the city of Chicago that I fear is going to be worse than last year. This legislation needs to be passed quickly. It needs to be put into law so Chicago Police, and also other agencies who are working to stem the violence in Chicago, are going to be able to stop these individuals from committing these repeat offenses,” Durkin said.
Durkin offered to carry the bill and said he’d get his members on board: “Let’s get this done. This is not acceptable. The top cop, the top police officer in the city of Chicago . . . is pleading with us to pass the legislation on the second-time offenders of people who use firearms — to pass [it] into law to help with his job to make the streets of Chicago safer. And I implore the members of this General Assembly to pass this legislation quickly and get this to the governor’s desk as soon as possible.”
Johnson will appear before the Senate’s Criminal Law Committee at noon Thursday.