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State eavesdropping-law fix to head to governor’s desk

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation to fix the state’s unconstitutional eavesdropping law will head to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk after winning approval in the Illinois Senate on Thursday.

If signed into law, it would replace the 1961 Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which had made it a felony to record a conversation unless everybody involved agreed. Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court justices struck down that law, saying it infringed on free-speech rights, especially in an age where cellphone camera videos are a routine part of life.

The bill that passed the Senate 46-4 — and had already passed the House — still aims to keep “private conversation” from being recorded surreptitiously. It also jettisons old language that justices said “criminalizes the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private” such as “a loud argument on the street” or “yelling fans at an athletic event.”

During debate on the Senate floor, the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, admitted statewide eavesdropping guidelines are still a work in progress, with additional issues to be addressed in the next legislative session. Lawmakers including Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, pointed out that the bill doesn’t address privacy issues raised by recordings made on cameras worn by police officers on their bodies.

“Law enforcement and the public are demanding we have body cameras, and most in law enforcement are in favor of this,” said Bivins, who voted against the measure. “If ever there was a sense of urgency in our country, it’s right now. To delay discussion and to delay dealing with this is a disservice, and we need to address it as quickly as possible.”

Raoul said he understood some disappointment on the Senate floor about body cameras not being part of the bill. But he said the issue must be dealt with carefully. “It’s important that there be some statewide protocol. We are going to have conversations with law enforcement, with stakeholders over the coming weeks so hopefully early in the session we can do something that explicitly authorizes the use of officer-worn cameras and sets some protocol for the use,” Raoul said.Raoul said he’ll be working on a bill addressing the body-worn cameras with Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook.