Illinois House President vows to pass anti-crime package

The Illinois top Democrat on Tuesday predicted the passage of an anti-crime package aimed at dealing with an alarming increase in auto hijackings and organized thefts from retail businesses and possibly disarming Republicans of ‘a powerful topic of discussion in the election year.

In a broad interview with WBEZ, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch also declined to pick winners or losers in the latest dispute between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union that has slowed down classrooms. of Chicago public schools for five days.

And the first-year House Speaker has said Democratic Governor JB Pritzker is set to run for a solid re-election this fall, but said the range of potential GOP rivals “scares him” because ‘they are “very extreme”.

On the issue of crime, the Hillside Democrat did not disclose details of what the measure would be, but said his party intends to push back against GOP representations that Democrats have been lenient with the criminality.

“We’re at the start of the session, but I plan before you go you’re going to see some action on an anti-crime package,” Welch said.

“One of the messages we’re going to send out loud and clear this session is that we believe if you commit crime you should make time,” he said. “We believe the police should be properly funded, trained and educated. But we’re all going to have to work together to make sure we reduce this violence. “

Chicago Police data show car hijackings increased 23% in 2021 from the previous year and nearly 300% since 2019. The crime spree has spared few areas of the city.

And it has even spread to suburban communities, including the western suburb of Broadview, where Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, and her husband have been forced to put their cars under threat. of a weapon at the end of December.

While Welch has not signaled an opening to longer prison terms for those convicted, he has shown a possible interest in reviewing a provision in a State Law of 2015 which spared teens 17 and under from being tried as adults if they committed armed robbery. Welch and Lightford voted in favor of this provision.

“If there is a policy on books that doesn’t work that I have supported, that other members have supported, and the data suggests we need to do something different, then we need to take a look at it.” , did he declare.

Data on the number of minors involved in the more than 1,700 car hijackings recorded by Chicago police in 2021 was not immediately available from the department on Tuesday afternoon, but a police spokesperson said it thought that more than half of the cases met this criterion. Nationally, young people are playing a role in the huge spike in carjackings.

Another brazen crime that has plagued North Michigan Avenue and suburban malls are groups of intruders entering stores and grabbing big-ticket items in droves and leaving.

Welch said he had been in contact with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association to find out how to deal with the growing prevalence of organized theft in retail, but neither he nor the organization would release details of a possible legislation.

Republicans attacked Democrats for supporting the end of the statewide cash bond next year, which the GOP says has allowed potentially violent defendants to return to the streets to commit crimes additional. Last January, lawmakers vote remove cash bond as part of larger Pritzker criminal justice package sign last february. Illinois was the first state in the country to eliminate this practice.

Advocates of criminal justice reform fought for this change to allow low-income defendants to avoid the same possibility of pre-trial jail as wealthier defendants who could afford bail. They argued that the existing law disproportionately targets people of color.

Welch said he was unwilling to delay the end of the cash bond as part of any anti-crime initiative this spring.

“I don’t know how we look at something that hasn’t even gone into effect yet,” Welch said. “There is no data on this other than the fear of people across the aisle. This law does not come into effect until 2023, so it clearly had no impact on the crime that took place last year or the crime that took place in the early days of this year.

Republicans have sentenced Pritzker and other Democrats for their position on criminal justice issues, and Welch’s Republican counterpart in the House expressed further criticism when briefed on the details of the speaker’s statements on Tuesday.

“How many shootings, carjackings and armed robberies must Democrats see before they stand up for the law-abiding citizens of Illinois?” Said Minority Parliamentary Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.

Welch took issue with the idea that Democrats can be characterized enough as being forgiving of crime.

“I think Republicans need to be accountable for their votes as well,” he said, citing previous GOP votes against violence prevention, mental health and housing assistance programs.

On other issues, the Speaker of the House weighed in on the 2022 gubernatorial campaign, which he says favors – perhaps predictably – Pritzker.

“The Republican candidates all scare me. But I’m telling you, Governor Pritzker did a hell of a job in his first year. He came out of the box and did an amazing job and then was hit with a global pandemic. which I think he handled extremely well. I am grateful that we have Governor Pritzker as our governor during this time, ”Welch said.

Pressed on what frightened him specifically in the GOP realm, Welch largely focused on positions that evoked memories of the predecessor of a defeated Pritzker tenure, Republican Bruce Rauner.

“A lot of them are extreme. We saw what extremism did in Illinois during the time of Bruce Rauner. This led to 736 days of budget deadlock. You can’t do anything when you rule from extremes, ”he said.

And on the issue that gripped all of Chicago and became a running national headline, Welch expressed relief that a standoff between city teachers and Chicago public schools ended Monday night after classes had to be canceled for five days.

Welch said he was not involved in the dispute and on Tuesday refused to choose political winners or losers in the difficult truce between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot – a truce that did not little done to quell the long-standing bitter relationship between the two sides.

“I don’t want to find myself in the middle of a battle with CTU and the mayor. I think the mayor has a difficult job. I think the union leadership is struggling to manage its members, ”Welch said. “Everyone has a job to do and I’m glad they did. “

Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on twitter @davemckinney.

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