Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday proposed reinstating the death penalty for mass murderers and those who kill police officers –– putting on record a package of public safety reforms that he can tout to voters ahead of a heated November election.
It was one of a series of sweeping changes the Republican governor attached to an amendatory veto. And a move deemed “political” by a key sponsor of the legislation.
With an election some six months away, the branding of a comprehensive package — even if it goes nowhere — shows voters that Rauner has a public safety plan.
Its evolution, however, is a little murky. Some legislators in the governor’s bipartisan Public Safety Working Group said just two of Rauner’s proposals were discussed within the group: the 72-hour holding period legislation for gun purchases and the use of revenue to add school resource officers or mental health workers.
The governor’s office said Rauner didn’t attend those meetings. His chief of staff Rodger Heaton, a former U.S. Attorney, attended instead.
There are six elements to the amendatory veto: reinstating the death penalty provided the suspects are found “guilty beyond any doubt”; extending the 72-hour period to all gun purchases; banning bump stocks and trigger cranks; using restraining orders to disarm dangerous individuals; making judges and prosecutors explain why charges are reduced in plea agreements for violent gun offenders; and the use of revenue to add school resource officers and mental health workers when needed.
Rauner called the plan “comprehensive” and “thoughtful.”
“It’s good policy. Every one of these six points will improve the safety of the people of Illinois,” Rauner said at an Illinois State Police facility in Chicago. “Each piece is critically important.”
And anticipating a challenge from Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, Rauner said the speaker can choose to pass legislation that’s identical to his amendatory veto instead.
Rauner has always been on board with the death penalty, but there have been no meaningful efforts to try to reinstate it in Illinois.
“There must be a burden of proof where a person is guilty beyond all doubt,” Rauner said. “Guilty beyond any doubt for killing a police officer or committing a mass murder. We then will impose the death penalty in Illinois.”
Rauner said those who kill police officers “deserve to give up their life.”
The governor said he’d consider other groups of defendants to be included in that.
“I’m very open to considering protections like this for additional individuals,” Rauner said.
But the state abolished the death penalty in 2011, and opening the door to one classification would mean opening it to others. Former Gov. George Ryan stopped all executions in Illinois in 2003 over concerns of the wrongful convictions of Death Row inmates.
Rauner’s recommendation, however, is that those accused of killing police officers or two people or more would be tried using a higher standard for determining guilt — “beyond all doubt,” not “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“So many times the person is caught in the act. Or so many times there are multiple witnesses and they’re fleeing the act and there’s no question of who did it,” Rauner said of those who kill police officers. “And you know what’s really tragic? Many times the perpetrators are proud of what they did. And there are plenty of cases where there’s no doubt who is guilty and they deserve to give up their life when they take the life of a police officer.”
Rauner said he put his pen to an amendatory veto of House bill 1468 to place a 72-hour holding period on all guns. The bill contained language specifically about assault weapons. Under current Illinois law, there is a 72-hour waiting period to buy a handgun, but just a 24-hour window to purchase a long gun, rifle or shotgun.
The changes the governor is seeking require approval by the General Assembly. And if legislators opt to not take up his amendatory veto, the entire proposal will die. Lawmakers can also choose to accept the changes with a simple majority, or push for an override — with 71 votes required in the House and 36 in the Senate.
There’s a chance some measures within his veto will pass on their own, notwithstanding what happens to the package. There’s a bump stock ban bill and a measure to allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to disarm individuals. Both bills are awaiting action in the Illinois House.
State Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, chief sponsor of the measure Rauner vetoed, said he’s not ready to say whether he plans to try to push for an override of the veto. But Carroll said the governor had no conversations with him about his measure and he believes the governor has “prioritized his own politics over saving lives.”
“I was not invited to have any conversations about this with him or to the press conference. I can’t speak to what the governor’s intentions are with it,” Carroll said. “I would hope the governor’s focus is on public safety the way that I am and what’s best for the people of Illinois.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said he has yet to see the governor’s recommendations.
“First we want to make sure it complies with the Constitution, as we do with all amendatory vetoes,” Brown said. “And then we’ll go from there.”
But Brown criticized the governor’s “negotiations” on the package: “This is the governor’s negotiated gun safety program. I guess there’s no negotiations. It’s just absurd.”