For the good of Illinois, Dems and GOP need to respect each other

One of the problems the super-majority Democrats have in both chambers is that when they know their bill is going to pass, they usually don’t take the Republicans’ objections seriously enough to fully engage with them.

SHARE For the good of Illinois, Dems and GOP need to respect each other
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, center left, R-Western Springs, speaks with Illinois Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, June 2021.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, center left, R-Western Springs, speaks with Illinois Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, June 2021.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

The state legislative debate last week over amending the Pre-Trial Fairness Act provisions within the controversial SAFE-T Act featured many of the same obfuscations and outright misinformation that characterized the fall campaign by Republicans, and many of the same insufficient answers by Democrats.

One of the problems tthe super-majority Democrats have in both chambers is that when they know their bill is going to pass, they usually don’t take the Republicans’ objections seriously enough to fully engage with them. But on bills like this, misinformation can spread when points aren’t adequately rebutted.

For just one example, during the House debate, Republican Leader Jim Durkin and his leadership successor, Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna), repeatedly blasted the Democrats at length for forcing victims of violent crime, via the Pre-Trial Fairness Act, to be dragged into court for hearings within 48 hours of an arrest.

Durkin has been making this argument in public venues for months, so the Democrats had to know this was coming.

Columnists bug

Columnists


In-depth political coverage, sports analysis, entertainment reviews and cultural commentary.

Durkin appeared furious that the Democrats didn’t fix what he claimed was their egregious mistake in drafting the original bill back in 2021 and claimed it directly violated the Illinois Constitution’s protections for crime victims. He predicted it would have a horrible impact on victims by victimizing them all over again.

But the only answer provided by the sponsor, Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), was that some victims’ rights organizations supported the law.

Opinion Newsletter

McCombie amped up the rhetoric even further than Durkin by asking if her 8-year-old niece was abducted by two men, brutally raped, buried alive and rescued, then would she be compelled to go to court for a detention hearing?

After saying the bill “didn’t make that possible,” Slaughter then said the law would make it more difficult for that to happen. McCombie said what Slaughter claimed wasn’t true, and that claim was followed by more emotional and unenlightening back and forth.

Slaughter was right, but the actual explanation he could’ve offered and didn’t is pretty simple. Before the Pre-Trial Fairness Act, judges were given full discretion to compel a victim to appear at a hearing on a defendant’s culpability and dangerousness. That’s no longer the case.

The law was changed in 2021 to force judges to explain why they were granting a request, and then they could “only grant the request if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant will be materially prejudiced if the complaining witness does not appear.” That’s one reason why victims’ rights groups supported the overall reforms.

Before the changes were first made in 2021, judges were admonished to “be considerate of the emotional and physical well-being of the witness,” and that particular statutory language was not altered.

The Pre-Trial Fairness Act even eliminated previous statutory language that gave accused criminals “the right to present witnesses in his favor” at those hearings. So, to claim this revision is a horrific sop to accused violent criminals just doesn’t make sense.

Arrogance of power, wild claims

The Democrats decided to exclude legislative Republicans from the revision talks, perhaps because they believed the GOP was more interested in theater than responsibly negotiating the new bill. Rarely does one negotiate with someone who will undoubtedly wind up being a hard and public “no.” That’s understandable on one level. I get it.

But, again, this problem is not just about the Pre-Trial Fairness Act or the SAFE-T Act. Time and time again I’ve watched the Democrats stand mute while Republicans lambasted their legislation, which was drafted without GOP input and then jammed through with Dems’ superior numbers. It’s an arrogance of power, and it resulted in a whole lot of scrambling during this past election season as wild claims were made about the bill they had passed.

On the other side, though, the fact this amendment was not officially opposed by any statewide law enforcement groups (which tend to be dominated by Republicans) should’ve prompted an attempt by at least some legislative Republicans to find common ground and maybe steer the end product even further in their direction. Maybe they just didn’t have anyone who was open minded enough or who was brave enough to confront their fellow Republicans by negotiating. Neither is a good sign.

I guess what I’m arguing for here is more respect by both parties for each other, for the legislative process and for the state we all inhabit and the people they all represent.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

The Latest
Marina Mabrey led the Sky with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Angel Reese added 13 points and nine rebounds and Dana Evans finished with 12 points and four assists.
Netflix movie borrows its plot from better movies, and its murky vision of the future just looks phony.
The taproom’s closure in Douglass Park will affect 86 employees, some of whom will work remotely or relocate to California.
The man, 30, was stabbed about 4:30 p.m. in the 200 block of North State Street. He was hospitalized in fair condition.
Rocker had been scheduled to perform with his band Crazy Horse at the Huntington Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island.