Covering the Land of Lincoln

Top stories in Illinois politics

SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) – 2022 was an extremely busy year for Illinois state government and politics. The Gray TV Illinois Capitol Bureau reported on the Midterm Election, corruption at the statehouse, and a trailer bill for the SAFE-T Act among other major topics.

Pretrial Fairness Act court battle

The pretrial fairness portion of the SAFE-T Act will take effect on Jan. 1. Or will it? Well, it depends on the county you live in. A Kankakee County judge ruled late Wednesday night that the bill language eliminating cash bail is unconstitutional.

His decision has caused confusion and chaos for courts across the state as 65 counties included in the lawsuit against the Pretrial Fairness Act won’t implement the law on Sunday. However, counties not involved in the court battle should move forward to abolish cash bail.

Some county leaders that originally planned to abolish cash bail on Jan. 1 are now walking back their statements and waiting for a statewide decision to be made. Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) told Democratic sponsors that the proposal may be found unconstitutional during the House debate on the final day of the fall veto session.

“Prior to this date, the legislature should have acted to delay implementation to allow the courts to have a complete ruling,” Windhorst said Thursday.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D-Illinois) quickly motioned for the Illinois Supreme Court to review the case. Five Democrats and two Republicans serve on the highest court, and many people expect the majority to side with lawmakers who fought for the massive criminal justice reform.

“While I am disappointed in the decision by the plaintiffs’ preferred trial court, I remain confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal,” said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

Pritzker vs Bailey

Meanwhile, Gov. JB Pritzker faced a large field of Republican candidates hoping to take over the state’s top job. While billionaire Ken Griffin spent millions of dollars supporting Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s gubernatorial campaign, Illinois Republicans chose a downstate farmer and outspoken senator who gained popularity for defying COVID-19 executive orders during the worst of the pandemic.

“Our current and our past governments, they’ve pushed the working people like me, they’ve pushed us aside for far too long,” said Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia). “And they’ve been too busy catering to themselves, scratching each other’s backs, being in cahoots with each other. And those days are coming to an end.”

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Jesse Sullivan told reporters on Aug. 18 that Bailey has similar characteristics to Lincoln. However, the venture capitalist also thinks Bailey could bring some of Trump’s policies back to Illinois.

“It’s really about getting God back in the center of our politics,” Sullivan said. “It’s about getting the government to quit their overreach and get back to limited taxation when we’re the highest taxed state in the nation and not getting anything for it.”

Bailey had strong backing from MAGA Republicans in Central and Southern Illinois. Yet, he could not win over moderate Republicans in the Chicago suburbs and lost to Pritzker on Nov. 8.

Pritzker highlighted successful plans that became law over the past four years, including raising the minimum wage, increasing education funding, legalizing recreational marijuana, and expanding abortion access. Abortion protections were a top reason why Democrats voted in the General Election following the Supreme Court decision this summer to overturn Roe v. Calf.

“Well, Illinoisans made their decision, a decision that we should be a beacon of hope, and opportunity, and caring,” Pritzker said.

Fiscal year 2023 budget

State lawmakers passed a $46.5 billion budget this spring with many Democrats claiming Illinois is in the strongest financial position in a generation. The spending plan made significant investments in education, human services, and public safety, but it also addressed longstanding financial obligations. The Fiscal Year 2023 budget used $2.7 billion in federal funds to pay off a chunk of the $4.5 billion debt in the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. Lawmakers also contributed $1 billion to the state’s rainy day fund and put a combined $500 million toward pension obligations.

One of the budget’s key features was a $1.8 billion family tax relief package. It suspended the state’s 1% grocery tax for a year and froze the gas tax for six months. The tax relief plan also provided $520 million for a one-time property tax rebate of up to $300 per household. Democrats included $685 million in tax rebate checks for individual filers making under $200,000 and joint filers making up to $400,000. Those checks were $50 per person and $100 for up to three children per family.

The tax relief plan also permanently expanded the Illinois earned income tax credit from 18% to 20% of the federal EIC. That expansion created first-time eligibility for low-income workers 18 to 24 years old without children, adults 65 and older, and undocumented immigrants.

“That sound you hear is bills getting paid,” said Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago). “That sound you hear are investments being made.”

Madigan indicated in ComEd, AT&T bribery schemes

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was indicted in March on federal racketeering charges surrounding bribery schemes spanning nearly a decade. The longest-serving legislative leader in United States history and former Quincy lobbyist Mike McClain were charged in the same public corruption case involving Commonwealth Edison.

“Today might be the darkest day in Illinois government history,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). “The 22-count federal indictment against former Democrat Speaker Michael Madigan is the beginning of the power cleaning so desperately needed.”

Both men faced new charges this fall after AT&T Illinois accepted a deferred prosecution agreement. A federal grand jury said Madigan corruptly arranged for payments to be made to one of his political allies as part of an alleged conspiracy with Illinois Bell Telephone Company. Madigan and McClain deny any wrongdoing in both corruption cases.

Sen. Scott Bennett died unexpectedly

Illinois leaders held a memorial service on Dec. 19 to honor the life of Sen. Scott Bennett. The 45-year-old Democrat died unexpectedly on Dec. 9 after complications with an undetected brain tumor. Hundreds of family, friends and elected leaders filled the Krannert Center for Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to celebrate the life of a man who impacted so many people in Illinois.

Scott Bennett grew up on his family farm in Gibson City. After serving as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana, Bennett advocated for change within the criminal justice system and education when he became a state senator.

Sen. Scott Bennett was a unique creature. In an era of soaring political egos and red meat rhetoric, Scott proudly took a different path,” said Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park). “Self-deprecating and disarming, his humor broke down barriers to find common ground.”

Speakers recognized Bennett’s landmark legislation to increase college affordability, help people with disabilities save money, and keep drinking water safe in his district. Bennett was also a key sponsor of the SAFE-T Act trailer bill that cleaned up language for the pretrial fairness portion of the law before taking effect on Jan. 1.

“His work starting the conversation led to significant compromise that resolved many of the concerns, promoted justice for all involved, and protected our communities and our citizens,” said Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz.

The Champaign Democrat leaves behind his wife, Stacy, and their twins, Sam and Emma.

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