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Windhorst willing to work with Democrats to address confusing SAFE-T Act language


Wednesday, September 21, 2022  |  Article  |  Mike Miletich

Illinois Democratic leaders have explained that they plan to make changes to the SAFE-T Act during veto session this fall to address concerns over the elimination of cash bail. While cash bail will still be abolished on Jan. 1, a House Republican said Tuesday that he is willing to help his Democratic colleagues amend the law.


Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) is a former Massac County State’s Attorney trying to work on a better solution for prosecutors and judges taking on more responsibility after the start of the new year.


Democratic and Republican state attorneys have told Windhorst that they would like to see Illinois implement a model similar to New Jersey where judges have broad authority to release or hold people awaiting trial. New Jersey eliminated cash bail in 2017 and moved to a system where prosecutors must show clear and convincing evidence that defendants should be held due to a threat to the public or a high likelihood of flight.


“Most of the people involved in those professions want the best for the public for public safety and to protect constitutional rights,” Windhorst said. “We’re all trying to make the system work fairly and justly.”


Windhorst said that he hopes Democrats bring more prosecutors and judges to the table with lawmakers to work on drafting and tweaking any clean-up proposals discussed during veto session. The Republican also hopes the new language will be discussed in public hearings over several days this fall to prevent “unintended consequences.”


Three state attorneys have recently filed lawsuits against Gov. JB Pritzker, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, and other Democratic leaders for allowing the SAFE-T Act to become law. McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, and Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe have raised concerns that the law is unconstitutional. When asked for a response to those claims, Windhorst agreed.


Windhorst noted that there are five to seven different subject matters addressed in the SAFE-T Act. He recalled that Democrats originally had two major reform bills, for criminal justice and police certification, that were later combined into one massive omnibus bill. Windhorst said a judge will have to decide if that ultimately falls under the same umbrella as one subject for a law, but he thinks there is a clear argument to be made that it breaks the single subject rule.


There is also a constitutional provision that states people have a right to bail except for certain offenses.


“I think there will be an argument made, not necessarily in these lawsuits, but potentially after Jan. 1 if there are any changes, by those who are denied bail saying they have the right to bail,” Windhorst said.


The downstate lawmaker said he wants to make sure that the public is safe while respecting the constitutional rights of people accused of crimes and the victims of crime as well. Windhorst stressed that he is willing to work with Democrats to make reforms in the cash bail provision of the SAFE-T Act that make and protect public safety.


“I hope Democratic sponsors give us an opportunity to be at the table. Give us an opportunity to be a part of your discussions,” Windhorst said. “I think it’s fair that we be a part of those discussions. I try to be an honest dealer with people when it comes to negotiations. I can present my ideas and they would be free to take them or leave them with the majority they have. But, at least we would have the opportunity to present them.”


Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) and Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) said Thursday that they are willing to have conversations with stakeholders and Republican lawmakers. However, they both stressed that the conversations about the criminal justice reforms must be in good faith.