Chesney Guest Column: Crime to Run Rampant if SAFE-T Act Not Repealed

Keeping people safe is one of the basic responsibilities of government. Tragically, under a new law set to go into effect on January 1 here in Illinois, criminals including violent offenders will have a lot more rights and police and prosecutors will be severely undermined in their ability to do their jobs, putting families across Illinois at-risk.

How did we get here? During the final hours of the 2021 lame duck session, Illinois Democrats rammed through anti-police, pro-criminal legislation under the cover of darkness, which Governor Pritzker then signed into law.

The Democrats’ so-called “SAFE-T” Act (HB 3653) contained many controversial provisions. The new law abolishes cash bail, makes it more difficult for prosecutors to charge a defendant with felony murder, adds further requirements for no-knock warrants, gives judges the ability to deviate from mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, makes changes to the “three strikes” law, and decreases mandatory supervised release terms, among other changes.

One of the most controversial aspects of HB 3653 was the numerous changes and additional requirements it places on Illinois’ law enforcement officers. The law creates a new felony offence of law enforcement misconduct, creates an anonymous complaint policy, and makes changes to use of force in making arrest, duty to render aid and duty to intervene. The law also makes significant changes to the law enforcement officer certification and decertification process.  

The SAFE-T Act was approved by the Illinois House by the bare majority of 60 votes with only minutes to spare before the terms of outgoing legislators expired. It was strongly opposed by Illinois’ law enforcement community, including the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and many State’s Attorneys from across the state. Citing serious concerns about both the content and the process by which the bill passed, Republicans in the House including myself voted unanimously against it.

Here are the facts. On January 1, 2023, the State of Illinois will eliminate its cash bail system, the first state in the nation to do so. Offenses for which people cannot be held in custody prior to trial include second degree murder, drug-induced homicide, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, failure to register as a sex offender, battery, theft, criminal damage to property, driving under the influence, and all drug cases including selling drugs. To current and former prosecutors like my colleague Representative Patrick Windhorst, that’s going to mean a lot of individuals committing crimes being released immediately, if not within a couple of days.

According to Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley, literally more than half of the inmates currently in jail in his county will literally walk free come January because of this new law.

I believe the elimination of cash bail, particularly as it’s written in the SAFE-T Act, will dramatically reduce public safety and lead to more crime, particularly more violent crime in Illinois.

I support House Resolution 598, which calls for full repeal of the SAFE-T Act. Republicans and Democrats can work together on public safety and criminal justice reform, but that effort must start with getting rid of the SAFE-T Act and starting over. If this is not done during the upcoming Fall Veto Session, then the dangerous provisions of the new law will go into effect on January 1 with disastrous consequences for Illinois families.

State Representative Andrew Chesney advocates on behalf of the 89th District in Illinois. As a legislator, his policy priorities include cutting taxes, creating jobs, and government accountability and transparency. Learn more at RepChesney.com.