Pritzker signs bills to fight domestic violence inspired in part by death of Joliet toddler and his mother’s fight to protect others

Cassandra Tanner Miller, Colton’s mother, didn’t speak at the Friday bill signing, but state Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, talked about their meeting and how Tanner Miller “worked every step of the way to make sure that this became legislation.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a package of legislation aimed at protecting and supporting survivors of domestic violence at the Thompson Center on Friday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a package of legislation aimed at protecting and supporting survivors of domestic violence at the Thompson Center on Friday.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a package of legislation Friday aimed at combatting domestic violence, sparked in part by the death of 18-month-old Colton Miller, whose father broke into his estranged wife’s Joliet home two years ago and asked “are you ready to die today?”

“I never got the opportunity to meet [Colton] while he was with us on earth,” state Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, said at the bill-signing ceremony.

“I think about Colton just about every single day and how we could prevent future fatalities like Colton, an innocent, beautiful baby boy who did nothing to anybody and nothing to deserve this.”

The seven pieces of legislation the governor signed are designed to prevent future tragedies and “remove some of the obstacles” that survivors face.

“Every difficult choice and obstacle we eliminate for victims of domestic violence unlock an opportunity for them to prioritize their safety,” Pritzker said. “While our work to make Illinois a safer and more compassionate state for survivors is not done, I am truly heartened by the steps that we are taking today.”

Among the bills the governor signed Friday was the Domestic Violence Taskforce Act, also known as Colton’s Taskforce, named for the toddler.

Cassandra Tanner Miller, Colton’s mother, worked to get the legislation passed. She didn’t speak at Friday’s bill signing, but Welter talked about their meeting and how Tanner Miller “worked every step of the way to make sure that this became legislation.”

The Morris Republican recounted Tanner Miller’s story — how her estranged husband broke into her home in September 2019, looked Tanner Miller and her daughter in the eye, and asked them “are you ready to die today?”

“Cassandra swears she saw the devil that day,” Welter said. “And I believe she did as well.”

State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, speaks at the bill-signing ceremony on Friday.

State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, speaks at the bill-signing ceremony on Friday.

Christopher Miller knocked Tanner Miller unconscious and attempted to kill their daughter before shooting Colton and then killing himself, Welter said.

That tragic experience led Tanner Miller to the Morris Republican’s office, where the mother put an urn with Colton’s ashes on the legislator’s desk.

“That was a shock factor, and it was needed,” Welter said.

And that led to the legislation.

“She pleaded for help — not to just one government agency, not just to the court systems. ... She was begging for help, and we failed,” Welter said. “We failed her as a state, as a community, and it was from that point that we decided we couldn’t accept that.”

Welter said there was not one piece of legislation before the act that could have prevented Tanner Miller’s situation, and so he and the stakeholders he spoke to decided to create a task force “to force maybe some individuals who haven’t been at the table to be at the table and have the tough conversations, and to ultimately look at best practices across the country, and put those forward to the General Assembly, so that we can pass additional legislation that will protect those in the future.”

Among the other new laws are measures that expand the Illinois Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act, allowing survivors to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid time off during any 12-month period. It also requires employers to accommodate those seeking time off and prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees.

Pritzker also signed legislation that requires students in elementary through secondary schools be provided with trauma-informed support and resources, including access to staff trained in how to respond to abuse, domestic, or sexual violence or gender-based harassment.

The legislation also creates a “success in school” task force to create or amend policies to help students who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence.

Those going through the divorce process will be able to request the opposing party pay an initial retainer fee to hire an attorney as a form of interim fees, according to a news release on another piece of legislation signed Friday.

The Illinois Supreme Court will be tasked with implementing a program to issue “hope cards” to those who seek an order of protection. Those cards display the details of a protective order, “so that a person can carry proof of their circumstances with them in their back pocket,” Pritzker said.

Another new law will create a forensic science commission to ensure “efficient delivery of forensic services and the sound practice of forensic science,” according to a news release.

Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, said a commission can help improve coordination between police and forensic scientists to decrease the state’s DNA testing backlog.

State Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, speaks at the bill-signing ceremony at the Thompson Center on Friday.

State Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, speaks at the bill-signing ceremony at the Thompson Center on Friday.

Blue Room Stream

State Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, who worked with Van Pelt to sponsor the legislation, said because forensic sciences are a vital piece of the justice system to help solve crimes, “we must do everything we can to ensure these services are being delivered timely and as professionally as they possibly can.”

“Today’s signing is just one step in ensuring Illinois’ success and leadership in forensic science, as well as providing the best possible tools to bring justice to the victims of heinous crimes,” Collins said.

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