Terminally ill prisoners, gender neutral language in marriage certificates addressed in bills moving through Legislature

House lawmakers also passed a bill that would allow people to petition the courts to expunge records of arrests and some charges related to prior drug possession if the petitioner met certain requirements.

SHARE Terminally ill prisoners, gender neutral language in marriage certificates addressed in bills moving through Legislature
The Illinois House of Representatives in 2016.

The Illinois House of Representatives in 2016.

AP file

The terminally ill could more quickly secure early release from prison, criminal defendants could speak more freely in certain hearings, and marriage licenses could be written in gender neutral language under bills that advanced Wednesday in the state Legislature.

A bill sponsored by state Rep. Will Guzzardi would streamline a commutation process for those imprisoned within the Illinois Department of Corrections who are “medically incapacitated and terminally ill,” allowing the Illinois Prisoner Review Board to make a faster decision on whether or not the person can return home, Guzzardi said.

“We believe that this is an important measure to allow for some of these folks to have an expedited determination of whether or not they can be sent home,” the Northwest Side Democrat said, adding the state board would still make the final call, and the process, which includes notifying victims and allowing them to make statements, would remain unchanged.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, testifies at a committee hearing in Springfield in 2019.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, testifies at a committee hearing in Springfield in 2019.

John O’Connor/AP file

Some Republicans said they appreciated the Democratic lawmaker listening to their concerns — though some were still unaddressed in the bill — while others said they wanted to see changes to the oversight process for those released.

The bill passed 75 to 38. It now moves to the state Senate.

House lawmakers also passed a bill that would allow people to petition the courts to expunge records of arrests and some charges related to prior drug possession if the petitioner met certain requirements.

The bill, which was sponsored by state Rep. Carol Ammons, would also reduce the penalty for possession of five grams or less of methamphetamines from a felony to a misdemeanor.

State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, spoke against the bill, saying he was concerned it might lead “to people not getting the treatment they need, and that it will cause individuals to not only not get their treatment but to continue to violate the law and worsen their addiction.”

Ammons said her husband has dealt with drug addiction previously, and “at no time was incarceration the solution.”

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, speaks at a bill-signing ceremony last month, shortly before Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, signed the bill.

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, speaks at a bill-signing ceremony last month, shortly before Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, signed the bill.

Blue Room Stream

“What actually happened that helped him turn a corner from his young days to what he is now ... was that there were programs instituted that allowed him to walk through the trauma that led him to drug addiction in the first place,” the Urbana Democrat said. “This bill is to restore them, give them an opportunity and prevent the downward spiral of incarceration in the lives of those who have drug addictions.”

The bill narrowly passed 61 to 49 and also heads to the Senate.

The Senate passed a bill involving statements made during restorative justice hearings — agreed upon hearings between defendants and victims that allow them to mediate over repairing the harm caused by the crime.The bill would prevent statements made during such a hearing from being used against an individual in court.

“If someone is afraid that something they say might come back to be used against them, they’re far less likely to take full advantage of the benefits that a restorative justice practice has to offer,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago. “And victims want to trust that the person they’re engaging with is going to be honest and real with them.”

But state Sen. Jil Tracy said that could allow defendants to admit to another crime in the course of the proceedings without consequences and “retraumatize” their victims.

“The perpetrators in a sexual assault or domestic abuse situation are manipulative. They feed on tormenting their victims continually, even as they apologize, and... [this bill] can do further harm to victims,” the Quincy Republican said.

Quincy Republican Jil Tracy listens during a news conference wrapping up her unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2014.

Quincy Republican Jil Tracy listens during a news conference wrapping up her unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2014.

Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

The bill passed 39 to 17 and will go to the House.

Another bill that passed Wednesday would allow married couples to change the gender designations on their marriage certificate or update them with non-gendered identifiers, creating “uniformity statewide” for county clerks, said state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor.

It passed 41 to 18, and now moves to the House.

In other legislative action, a House committee approved a change to a bill that would have lifted the statewide ban on rent control.

Instead of nixing the ban — which the bill initially sought to do — the amendment would allow voters to put a referendum question on their local ballot to exempt their community from the ban, permitting their municipal government to debate the issue.

“This is a debate about democracy and local control and empowering voters and communities to pass these bills, not of rent control in itself,” said Guzzardi, the bill’s sponsor.

Republicans on the committee said Guzzardi’s appeal to Democracy was “ducking the issue” of whether rent control is a good policy.

“The side effect of rent control is you wind up getting very long waiting lists,” said state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst. “And if you think that in Illinois that’s not going to be a new source of public corruption, you have not been paying attention to the government in the state of Illinois over the course of the last 50 years.”

Rachel Hinton reported from Chicago, Andrew Sullender from Springfield.

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