Closing time in Springfield: Human trafficking bill passes, foreclosure fraud and criminal records bills stall; campaign finance and early release bills moving forward

Closing time in Springfield: Human trafficking bill passes, foreclosure fraud and criminal records bills stall; campaign finance and early release bills moving forward
Illinois capitol building in Springfield (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Kath)

Lawmakers in Springfield have their hands full this week as they wrap up the spring session. Designing a new budget, crafting pension and Medicaid reform and a compromise on gambling legislation are all topics that have seized headlines in recent weeks and months.

During that time, The Chicago Reporter has had its eye on a few bills that haven't gotten much press.

HB5278 - Human and sex trafficking, forced labor

The Reporter first spotted this bill last month. Essentially, it makes it easier to charge and convict human and sex traffickers, and those who trap victims into forced labor. It passed both chambers Monday afternoon and now awaits Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. The bill tweaks language in a number of existing laws to broaden how the state defines human and sex trafficking and involuntary servitude, making it easier to prosecute offenders. One section now states that someone can be charged for coercing a person into sex acts or forced servitude if the offender convinces the victim that he or she--or someone the victim knows--will otherwise be physically harmed. The bill also facilitates the prosecution of offenders who exploit or abuse minors. It states that the statute of limitations against the offender begins within one year of the victim turning 18, and that it lasts for three years after that, allowing more time for prosecution. The bill's sponsor, 14th District state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who used to work in the Cook County States Attorney's office, said she put forth the bill so human and sex trafficking will be more aggressively prosecuted. The bill tackles more forms of abuse and it gives prosecutors more leverage to go after offenders, but the Reporter noted back in April that it's still dependent on the victim coming forward and identifying the offender--no safe or easy task.

SB3722 - Campaign Contributions

House lawmakers are still working on getting this bill out of the lower chamber and onto the governor's desk. SB3722 started as legislation to add more transparency on political donors giving to PACs through unions or corporations. Quite a bit more has been tacked onto the legislation since it reached the House. Perhaps most notably was the decision by a House committee earlier this month to essentially lift caps on contributions to candidates once PACs spend a certain amount of money on an individual. The threshold is $250,000 for statewide races and $100,000 for local races. Then, "all gloves are off", Rey López-Calderón, executive director of the Chicago-based political reform group Common Cause told the Reporter, a few weeks back. Common Cause and other campaign-finance reform groups, like the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, oppose the bill. The bill has cleared the Senate and seen two readings in the House. A minor amendment was called for Monday, Majority Leader Barbara Flynn-Currie said, adding that House lawmakers will try to get a third reading done some time this week. If it passes the House after the third reading, the bill goes to Quinn.

HB5665 - Foreclosure fraud

This bill, which would make foreclosure fraud a felony in Illinois, passed the House on May 10 and was then referred to the Senate, but didn't get far. The bill was sent to the Assignments Committee, but won't likely be voted on during this session. A spokesperson for 57th District state Sen. James Clayborne's office, head of the committee, said there wasn't enough time for the bill to get a full reading and its sponsor, 16th District state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, agreed to wait until the veto session for the bill to be brought up again.

Meanwhile, the Governor's budget also includes measures that would cut the time Illinois families can stay on welfare to three years from five. As the Reporter noted last week, the bill would kick 3,000 families off of public assistance as of July 1st, a move the Shriver Center on Poverty Law says would likely leave them destitute at a time when unemployment is still high. Dan Lesser, director of economic justice at Shriver, says they've been talking to lawmakers and trying to make inroads in the legislature and the governor's office. "Since he proposed this as part his FY 2013 budget, the issue is being decided now and we should know by May 31 whether Illinois is going to shorten its lifetime limit," Lesser said.

SB1565 - Minimum Wage

It appears unlikely SB1565, a bill to raise the minimum wage in Illinois gradually to $10.55, will pass the General Assembly before the session ends. There's a deadline of Thursday for a third reading in the Senate, but it would still need to clear the House and get Gov. Quinn's signature. The bill made its way out of the Executive Committee on May 16th. When the bill first came on the Senate floor, reported the website Central Illinois Proud, discussion on the measure raged for more than an hour. On one side of the argument are opponents including small businesses who say an increase in wages could bankrupt them. On the supporting side are those, including the progressive Raise Illinois campaign, who say that for about 1 million minimum wage workers, a jump in the hourly wage could mean not having to choose between two necessities but being able to afford both.

SB2621 - Early release

Under SB2621, prisoners would be eligible for early release through a system that would provide them "credits"--days knocked off the sentence--for good behavior or for participation in a variety of programs. It amends an already existent program outlined in the state's Unified Code of Corrections. Depending on the crime, prisoners could have between 4.5 to 7.5 days per month removed from their sentences. The early release program applies to offenders convicted of both violent and non-violent crimes. But it gives case directors--those tasked with giving out the credits--discretion in deciding whether to hand them out or not. The previous law prohibited that: the number of credits given to prisoners was based on whether they were violent or non-violent offenders. The director's discretion, according to 13th District state Sen. Kwame Raoul, the sponsor, is a sort "risk assessment". Essentially, it allows the director to give credits based on the individual, rather than entirely on the crime he or she is convicted of. The law would not apply to those with life sentences. The prisoner must serve at least 60 days--or as close to that as his or her sentence allows--to be eligible for the credits. A written report on the program must also be submitted to the governor, as an "accountability measure" a Raoul staffer said. The bill was in a House committee Monday, and will likely see its second reading in the lower chamber Tuesday.

HB5723 - Sealing felony records

Since the Reporter first wrote about the felony sealing bill HB5723 in March, the legislation has inched forward. Originally introduced by 8th District state Rep. La Shawn Ford, the bill would expand the types of convictions that can be sealed to keep them from showing up on background checks when an ex-offender is trying to get a job, a house or a student loan. After a second reading on the House floor in March, it was referred to the Rules Committee and picked up 10 more co-sponsors. The sealing bill has lots of support from groups that work in communities affected by high felony rates, including the NAACP, the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Cabrini Green Legal Aid. But its slow progress so far makes it unlikely to pass by the end of the legislative session, meaning people with some felonies may have longer to wait for the chance to seal their records.

SB 1064 – Private Correctional and Detention Facilities

SB 1064 applies the Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act to detention facilities, prohibiting private contractors and vendors from being contracted or paid to build or run correctional and detention facilities. Introduced in February by 6th District state Sen. John J. Cullerton, the bill passed through the Senate at the end of March and moved on to the House. Its final action deadline was extended to May 31, so the House has today or tomorrow to vote on it. The bill is in response to the Corrections Corporation of America’s proposed detention facility in Crete, Ill., which would hold immigration detainees. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is currently lobbying in Springfield in favor of the bill. “We’re working very hard to make sure that we have the votes,” said Fred Tsao, ICIRR policy director.

-Yana Kunichoff, Megan Cottrell and Kate Everson co-authored this post

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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