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Legislators hear arguments for, against criminal justice bill

The bill was up for discussion in both the House and the Senate’s Executive Committee — the House meeting was a subject matter hearing focused on sentencing provisions and bail reform, Rep. Justin Slaughter, who chaired the committee and helped craft the criminal justice proposal, said. 

House members prepare for session inside the Bank of Springfield Center on Wednesday.
House members during a previous session inside the Bank of Springfield Center.
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A sweeping criminal justice reform bill that has sparked strong opposition from law enforcement was a hot topic of discussion Saturday before state lawmakers as they try to finalize the bill.

The billwas up for discussion Saturday in both the House’s Judiciary-Criminal Committee, where legislators focused on sentencing provisions and bail reform, and the Senate’s Executive Committee, according to Rep. Justin Slaughter, who chaired the House committee and helped craft the criminal justice proposal.

Those committees heard from witnesses for and against the bill as they work to fine-tune the sweeping reforms proposed by the Legislative Black Caucus during this month’s lame duck session, the last before newly elected members are sworn in on Wednesday.

“This country has a major issue with mass incarceration,” Slaughter, D-Chicago, said, adding that the reforms aim to prevent more people from entering the criminal justice system and prevent those who already have from going back in.

Those in favor of the bill, or who served as subject matter experts, argued that reforms within it, like allowing the courts to move away from mandatory minimums and toward alternate sentencing, could create better sentencing guidelines for the state’s justice system.

“We are attacking two things here … who goes to prison and their length of stay,” Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said during her testimony.

Law enforcement officials criticize the bill as only making their jobs harder.

Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, minority spokeswoman of the House committee, said she was frustrated the bill was being brought during the lame duck session.

“If you’re going to run it as an omnibus bill then it’s a bill that should be negotiated until you can find not only bipartisanship on it, but you might actually be able to come to an agreed bill,” Bryant said of the proposal, which packages together several subjects related to criminal justice reform.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, the current chair of the Black Caucus, sought to quash the idea that the bill was rushed and said during the Saturday committee “… we’ve tried to reform the police system a number of times and every time it’s always an excuse from law enforcement to work with us.”

The criminal justice bill is one of four that the Black Caucus has introduced based on the four pillars outlined in the caucus agenda: Criminal justice reform, violence reduction and police accountability; education and workforce development; economic access, equity and opportunity; and health care and human services.