Black lawmakers in Springfield look to take on criminal justice reform, systemic racism in lame duck session

Sparked by the unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd, the Legislative Black Caucus will introduce four bills next month to address inequities and other issues in Illinois.

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Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, in May.

Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood

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

Sen. Kimberly Lightford said Wednesday she’s lost a lot of sleep trying to create an agenda that the Legislative Black Caucus, and her colleagues in the General Assembly, could unite around.

“I thought over and over again how to make sure that it was all based on data and facts and that it was solid, because I’ve been a legislator too long to not understand the nuances,” Lightford, the current chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said. “This time there was an opportunity to leverage the moment of unrest that led our caucus to come together, more unified than ever, to take action.”

Comparing this year’s agenda and planning process to policy plans of previous years, Lightford said caucus members wanted to engage their colleagues and “make sure we’re learning” together.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday night, the caucus is holding a virtual online forum for residents to weigh in on their plans.

The idea behind their agenda was to address the question: “What impedes the growth and prosperity of black Americans?” Lightford said.

Following the unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, the Maywood Democrat said in an interview that the first thing caucus members “acknowledged” was the need for criminal justice reform.

Lightford, the Senate majority leader, said the group plans to introduce four omnibus bills — one for each of the pillars outlined in their agenda — when legislators convene Jan. 13, ahead of the swearing in of new members.

Those four pillars are criminal justice reform, violence reduction and police accountability; education and workforce development; economic access, equity and opportunity; and health care and human services.

The caucus had subject matter hearings throughout the early fall and has had its own meetings with advocacy groups from all sides to craft and draft the legislation, the senator said.

Among other things, the bill on criminal justice reform will address intervention and conflict de-escalation, limiting the circumstances where use of force is justifiable and officer wellness. It will include a statutory restriction of qualified immunity, a legal exception that keeps police officers and other public officials from being personally liable for constitutional violations.

The bill on education and workforce development will include a proposal for Black history curriculum reform and creates an American history commission that will review K-12 standards, requirements and assessments for history lessons. The bill will look at how to “create a well informed, tolerant and equitable society through education and history,” Lightford said.

“We want to do all that we can to make sure we get this right,” Lightford said.

Those bills will be first introduced in the state Senate, Lightford said. The bills for the other two pillars will begin in the House and will be spearheaded by Reps. Sonya Harper and Camille Lilly, who are both Democrats from Chicago, Lightford said.

“We’re building this black agenda focused on these pillars so that we can confirm the foundational causes of systemic racism and oppression across Illinois, in particular in our government and policy, that impedes the growth and progress of the black community,” Lightford said, adding: “We want to address these inequities.”

The caucus will get an overview of the language of the bills before the end of the week and they’ll “take deeper dives” in the next couple of days into the language of the bills, she said.

The senator said she believes the caucus will be successful in passing its agenda. Many of her colleagues in both chambers of the assembly have been engaged with the work, Lightford said.

“I feel very optimistic that we’ll finally begin to embrace our differences and come together in solidarity to end this era of ... systemic racism that has plagued our communities for far too long,” Lightford said.

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