As crime rates in Illinois go up, a group of state Senate Republicans last week proposed legislation to toughen gun laws, increase funding for police and boost support for addressing the mental-health issues that contribute to crime.
The package, introduced by, among others, state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, is attention-getting, but not because it stands a chance of becoming law. It’s useful because it shows the gulf on crime policy between Illinois’ supermajority Democrats and superminority Republicans.
With the 2022 election drawing closer, it’s a comparison piece that makes it clear who stands where.
The GOP crime package is going nowhere because Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic legislative leaders will ignore GOP complaints and bury it.
If the Democrats like any of the GOP’s ideas, they’ll repackage them under Democratic sponsorship and take the political credit for themselves. But that isn’t going to happen, because Democrats not only expressed opposition but did so in a vituperative manner.
A Pritzker spokeswoman said it’s easy for Rose to “spew rhetoric” on crime.
“The Senate Republicans have shown us time and time again they care more about getting headlines than supporting solutions,” read a statement from Pritzker.
State Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, was even more insulting.
“This is dog-whistle politics from people who just like to round up poor people,” Peters said. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
While Peters’ words may sound extreme, it’s his perspective on criminal-justice issues that prevails in Illinois.
Thirty years ago, legislators spooked about rising crime competed with each other to see who could appear the toughest. But the worm has turned — legislators now compete to see who can be most effective in reducing the state’s prison population and keeping those convicted of crimes out of jail and prison.
That view is best reflected by the dramatic rewrite of state criminal law passed earlier this year with virtually no review and no debate by the General Assembly and enthusiastically signed into law by the governor.
Its best-known feature is ending the practice of requiring those charged with a crime to post bond to be released from custody. Bond, of course, now ranges from being released without posting money (recognizance) to higher amounts, mostly depending on the individual’s history and the charges levied.
In the future, individuals charged with a crime will either be released outright or, in the event of a serious crime charged, held without bond.
The end of bond won’t take effect until 2023. But the legislation — hundreds of pages long — is in its implementation stage, much to the chagrin of many law-enforcement officers and prosecutors.
Passage of what was characterized as the “social justice” bill was one of the signature achievements of the legislative Black caucus, which has tremendous influence in the Democratic Party.
Republicans clearly think the legislation is poor policy but might provide a target to help convince voters in this solid Democratic state to give the GOP a chance.
In their effort to crack down on “gun violence” with tougher laws, they’ve selected an easy target. People across Illinois, in cities ranging in size from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana, are increasingly worried about the rise in shootings and homicides.
It’s not just Republicans expressing public concern about gun violence.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin complained that on a recent visit to Chicago, he heard “popping sounds” from a vehicle next to his on Lake Shore Drive.
“It turned out to be the car
next to us. The driver was leaning out the window and shooting into the air,” Durbin said. “He could have just as easily been shooting at us. Sadly, that’s what happens way too often.”
At the same time, longtime Democratic political strategist David Axelrod urged Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to declare a “public safety emergency” because of the city’s rising crime problem, particularly in homicides.
He said it would be a smart political move.
“If not, this is going to be on her account, if she runs for re-election in 2023,” Axelrod said.
Democrats Durbin and Axelrod wouldn’t be making public statements like those if they weren’t concerned. That’s why Republicans are hoping — and betting — that the public will be more sympathetic to their proposals than the Democrats in Springfield.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-393-8251.