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Senate Republicans irked over handling of appointments to Prisoner Review Board

Some Republican state senators are upset by some of the board’s decisions and have questioned the appointments of four of the board’s members, saying they haven’t been confirmed by the Illinois Senate as required by law.

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, second from the right, speaks at a news conference in Springfield on Monday, as state Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, third from the right, and state Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, right, listen.
Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, speaks at a news conference in Springfield on Monday. He was joined by Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, (left) and Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield.
Andrew Sullender/Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — Some Republican state senators are calling J.B. Pritzker “the most dangerous governor in America” after Senate Democrats refused to vote on 10 Illinois Prisoner Review Board appointees Monday.

Those Republicans say that maneuver will allow those appointees to continue serving without going through the constitutionally-required confirmation process.

The appointments were on the Senate Executive Appointments Committee’s agenda Monday, the last day of the legislative session.

But Chairwoman Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, allowed the hearing to end without calling the appointees to testify.

Just last week, four Republican state senators, upset by some prison review board decisions, questioned the appointments of four board members, pointing out they haven’t been confirmed by the Senate as required under law.

Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Vandalia, the leading Republican on the committee, said he was “extremely disappointed” by Murphy, and accusing her of doing Pritzker’s “bidding.”

Murphy called her actions “routine” and the Republicans’ rhetoric “dangerous.”

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have chosen to politicize this process, but they are well aware the procedure is routine,” Murphy said in an emailed statement Monday. “The Prisoner Review Board is charged with making parole determinations independently, and to involve them in this shameless display of partisanship is inappropriate and dangerous.”

A Pritzker spokeswoman accused the Republican senators of “political grandstanding.”

The 15-member prisoner review board decides who gets paroled and sets conditions of parole for state prisoners. It also makes clemency recommendations to the governor.

Those 10 appointees were placed on the board in 2019 but have not gone before the Senate for approval since then.

The appointees are to be approved by the Senate within 60 days of a legislative session. But Pritzker withdrew the appointments in March and reappointed them days later; that started the 60-day countdown all over again.

Last week, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said it is “routine practice” for appointees to be withdrawn “so that the Senate has more time to consider the appointments.”

“For the Prisoner Review Board to be able to undertake its difficult and complex mission, members must be able to make parole determinations entirely independently,” she said. “Subjecting members to political grandstanding sets a new and dangerous precedent for this constitutional function.”

Plummer and State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, were not convinced,

“These appointees are unaccountable to the legislature and are releasing people on the streets of this state … some of whom are cop killers, sexual assault rapists, [and] child molesters,” Plummer said Monday. “And yet the people doing that won’t appear before the State Senate. The Democrat majority won’t call them and will not do their constitutional duty because apparently the governor’s checkbook is more important than the people living in their districts.”

Bryant pointed to the case of Ray Larsen, released by the prison review board last month after serving time for the 1972 killing of Chicago teenager Frank Casolari.

Bryant said she had “a week of sleepless nights” after learning Larsen broke parole and recently turned up in a Chicago-area hospital.

“Imagine the victims of those crimes and the sleeplessness that they had ... wondering where that guy was. It could have been in any one of our districts where that individual was loose,” Bryant said.

Pritzker did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.