Windhorst Weekly – February 1, 2022

Dear Friend,

House and Senate members were supposed to return to the Capitol in Springfield this week to begin in-person work for the first time since January 5th. The coming winter storm has thrown a wrench into those plans, and Session has now been canceled for the week. Governor Pritzker was supposed to deliver his 2022 State of the State and Budget Address in a combined speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, but that speech will now be given virtually. You can watch the speech at at 12:00 PM noon on Wednesday. I’ll have my reaction to the Governor’s remarks for you as soon as the speech is over.

This week’s edition of the Windhorst Weekly has all the news and notes from last week in Illinois government. Thank you for reading!

Repeal the SAFE-T Act Podcast Episode

I joined my colleague House Republican Assistant Leader Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) recently to record a podcast on the topic of repealing the SAFE-T Act, a law signed in 2021 that makes the job of police officers much harder and affords rights and privileges to criminals that I believe are contributing to the rise in violent crimes and the decline of morale among our police officers.

Sheriff Downey regretted the recent move by Illinois Democrats to enact legislation to eliminate cash bail. The new alternative has a defendant make a cashless pledge to obey further court appearances. “Cashless bail has already proven in other states to not work,” the sheriff warned. It “has increased violent crimes in those states to record numbers.” Despite data like this, the Democrats’ “SAFE-T Act,” enacted in January 2021, moves Illinois from cash bail to cashless bail. Illinois House Republicans have posted an online petition for Illinoisans to sign, calling for repeal of the dangerous SAFE-T Act and reversing its move to cashless bail for persons accused of violent crimes. House Republicans are sponsoring legislation to repeal the SAFE-T Act and protect public safety.

DCFS Hearing Reveals Failures at Agency – Windhorst Questions Director on being Found in Contempt of Court

Last week, I participated in a virtual hearing where legislators form the House Human Services Appropriations Committee were able to ask questions of DCFS Director Marc Smith and his staff for the first time since he was held in contempt of court for failing to implement changes at the department ordered by the judicial branch. The failures at DCFS have resulted in children being hospitalized longer than necessary, and sadly, children dying both in the care of the State of Illinois and at the hands of their parents even after DCFS had been involved.

Rep. Windhorst Questions DCFS Director Marc Smith during a virtual House Human Services Appropriations Committee hearing on issues related to children in care, court orders, and the director being held in contempt of court in recent weeks.

The 161 notifications to law enforcement were sparked by actions at the Southern Thirty Adolescent Center, a private-sector bed facility that is designated as a “temporary shelter” for young people who have been remanded to the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The group home is located in an unincorporated section of Jefferson County, Illinois, near the county seat of Mt. Vernon.

This Center is the home of young people who are subject to interim court custody decisions. These remands, which are done by a court while a juvenile’s case is within the court’s jurisdiction, are supposed to help provide a juvenile with emergency educational, mental health, and other appropriate services. During the periods of time of emergency juvenile services, State law and federal law say that there needs to be a fast-track procedure in place to find an appropriate long-term placement for young people in these categories. The law says, and child advocates know, that in order to get a positive outcome for young people like these, they and their families need physical and psychological stability. 

Unfortunately, DCFS is often not able to find long-term placements for some of its young people. This is especially true for young people with challenges of various sorts. The Southern Thirty Adolescent Center, which is supposed to provide emergency, short-term shelter space for young people for periods of no more than 30 days, holds its residents for a period that averages 107 days – and some young people have to stay there for many months. These long stays forestall, and make impossible, the effective educational and mental health services that these young people are supposed to get.

Marc Smith, the Pritzker-appointed Director of DCFS, has been found in contempt of court. Sparking this judgment: the revelation, to a courtroom in Chicago, that a juvenile named C.R.M., who possesses the standing to get care and treatment in a therapeutic foster home, had not gotten this treatment despite the instructions of the court. Instead, the 13-year-old had been placed in the Southern Thirty group building, and held there for months. House Republicans, led by Leader Jim Durkin, are demanding action and a major change of course within DCFS.

New laws necessary to keep up with times – House GOP Members introduce penalty enhancements 

For the last several years, Democrats who control both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly have implemented an unwritten policy prohibiting increased penalties in current criminal statutes. Additionally, they have prevented the passage of laws that would criminalize new behaviors. Two such examples of legislation that were thwarted by Democrats include one that would have increased penalties for attacks on DCFS workers and the another that created a new law criminalizing surreptitious electronic tracking.

After the brutal murder of DCFS Investigator Pam Knight in 2019, Rep. Tony McCombie introduced legislation that would increase the penalty for attacks on DCFS Investigators. Standing firm in their decision not to allow penalty enhancements, the House Democrat majority refused to pass the legislation that would have treated attacks on DCFS investigators the same way attacks on teachers and firefighters are treated. Not to be deterred by the Democrats’ roadblock, Rep. McCombie reintroduced the legislation in 2021 and passed it in the House only to have it stall in the Senate due to inaction and opposition by supermajority Democrats in that chamber.

Tragically, earlier this month another DCFS Investigator, Deidre Silas was brutally murdered while preforming her duties. Rep. McCombie has once again filed HB 3933 for the spring 2022 Session in hopes that Democrats will now take action. DCFS Investigators are frequently presented with dangerous situations and they deserve all the protections the State can provide them.

In addition to being loath to increase penalties on criminal activities, Democrats have refused to allow laws to be passed that would create new criminal penalties despite emerging technologies that present new threats to innocent people. In 2016, a new law was introduced that would create the offense of illegal electronic monitoring, which would prohibit criminals from installing tracking software on electronic devices without the permission of the owner of the device. The legislation was proposed to protect victims of domestic violence from being unknowingly tracked by their abusers. However, the legislation never was heard on the House Floor because Democrats did not want to add a new criminal statute to the books. Flash-forward to 2022, news accounts of Apple Air Tags being used to track unwitting victims has raised new concerns about electronic monitoring. Rep. Keith Wheeler has introduced HB 4726, a bill similar to the previously rejected illegal electronic monitoring legislation in an attempt to prevent such devices from being used for ill-intended purposes. The time to update our laws to match up with threats posed by new technology is now.

By refusing to acknowledge that people who mean to do harm are finding new ways to conduct those activities, Democrats are making Illinois a less safe place to live.

Responsible legislators do not introduce new laws just for the sake of creating them. New laws should have a specific purpose. At the very least, legislation dealing with penalizing stalkers and domestic abuse should be given a public hearing and vetted at all levels of the General Assembly. And, they should not be dismissed out-of-hand because Democrats won’t pass any tough-on-crime bills, no matter the cost to public safety. There is a happy medium to be had. When technology changes with the times, legislators must act accordingly to keep our citizens safe.

Republican lawmakers are ready and willing to work together with Democrats to keep all Illinoisans safe – after all, it is what we are elected to do.

CRIMINAL LAW- House GOP Leader Jim Durkin Proposes Victim-Focused Overhaul of Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board

With a focus on protecting victims of violent crime and their families, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin introduced legislation on Thursday to overhaul Illinois’ Prisoner Review Board (PRB) and provide greater weight to the interests of victims of violent crime, rather than criminals.

“Today, I am here to give hope to the forgotten voices in our present criminal justice system, the victims of crime. The despair and anguish felt by crime victims and the futility they experience seeking closure for the tragic and brutal loss of a family member, loved one, or friend cannot be discounted,” said Durkin. “That pain and torment is only fueled by the decisions of Governor Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board.” 
According to Durkin, there are a number of recent examples of violent offenders being released by Pritzker’s PRB over the objections of victims, their families, law enforcement, and judges.

Paul Bryant has a long history of violent crimes, including numerous convictions for murder, rape, home invasion, burglary and more. Bryant was convicted of killing a 59-year-old woman whose throat he slashed during a robbery in 1976 and the murder of a 19-year-old woman who he raped, beat, strangled and set on fire in 1977. Another woman was held at knifepoint, robbed, and raped in her home.

Ultimately, Bryant was caught after breaking into a woman’s home, robbing and raping her, and returning several days later to rape her again. The repeat victim was able to identify Bryant as the man who repeatedly violated her. The judge who sentenced Bryant to 500 to 1,500 years for just one of the murders he committed said at the time he wanted to send a message to future parole boards that Bryant should never be released. On July 14, 2020, Pritzker’s PRB voted to release him. 

Ray Larsen, a man convicted of murdering a child and deviant sexual behavior, made headlines last year when, just days after being released, he absconded from the state, violating the terms of his parole and becoming a fugitive. It wasn’t the first time that Larsen had proven himself a risk. 

In May of 1972, while on a 3-day furlough, Larson entered the home of an older woman, sexually assaulted and robbed her. Following the assault, he went to Schiller Woods Forest Preserve “looking for something to shoot” when he came across 16-year-old Frank Casolari, who was fishing. Larson shot the boy 23 times and left his naked body in the woods. He was caught the next day in a stolen vehicle with an underage girl who had been missing overnight. 

Ultimately, Larson was released by Pritzker’s PRB on May 13, 2021, over the objection of Attorney General Kwame Raoul, whose office tried to delay the decision for 90 days so Larson could be evaluated as a possible sexually violent person. Ultimately, the PRB was forced to rescind Larson’s parole.

In July of 1970, Chicago Police Sergeant James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato volunteered for the “walk and talk” community outreach program, which aimed to reduce crime. On July 17, Severin and Rizzato were murdered in cold blood while crossing a baseball field as part of a coordinated sniper attack planned and executed by a local gang. Johnny Veal was an integral part of planning and carrying out this attack on law enforcement and bragged about his involvement to rival gang members.

Testifying before the PRB, Sgt. Severin’s nephew said he remembered his uncle saying how much he loved working with the kids at the local baseball field the week before he was brutally murdered on the same baseball field. Even Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx voiced opposition to Veal’s parole, calling the officer’s murders a “cold blooded execution,” while also pointing out that Veal bragged about the crimes. Nevertheless, Pritzker’s PRB voted to release Veal on February 21, 2021.

Durkin’s legislation, House Bill 5126, makes a number of reforms aimed at protecting victims of violent crime and ensuring dangerous offenders remain behind bars. 

“The State of Illinois must change. This administration is placing criminals above victims, and are disregarding the voice of victims across the state, said Durkin. “There is no reason that cold blooded murderers are released back into society against the wishes of the people they hurt so profoundly. Governor Pritzker gave Veal, Larson and Bryant the second chance that their victims and loved ones will never get.”

COVID-19 Hospitalizations drop sharply in Illinois

After rising rapidly in December and the first half of January, the headcount of patients seeking admission to hospitals for coronavirus symptoms and treatment has begun to scroll downward. While many patients continued to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and some have conditions that require treatment in intensive care units (ICUs), overall hospitalized patient headcounts and ICU headcounts have begun to drop in many sections of Illinois.  

Hospitals report their bed-count numbers daily to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and inpatient hospitalizations for coronavirus peaked at 7,380 on Wednesday, January 12. One and a half weeks later, at the close of Sunday, January 23, this number had dropped to 5,328, an eleven-day decrease of more than 25%. Other U.S. states are reporting similar declines in their numbers. 

At least four separate variants of COVID-19 coronavirus have hit Illinois over the past 24 months, and the virus now has a known ability to mutate and renew its attack on human beings.

ENERGY – Zero-carbon-emissions Dresden nuclear generating plant could run for another 30 years 

The Illinois River facility, located near Morris, was built by Chicago’s Commonwealth Edison and continues to be operated by ComEd’s holding company. With the price of electricity generated by natural gas recently undercutting Dresden, the survival of the plant was in doubt for a time. However, soaring prices for carbon-based fossil fuel have joined with legislation recently enacted in Illinois to make Dresden solidly profitable once again. Holding company Exelon confirmed this week that they would seek federal approval to extend Dresden’s operating license for an additional 20 years.

A twenty-year license extension is only granted to nuclear power plants with an unusually smooth operating history and high-quality personnel. Dresden’s two reactors generate 1,800 megawatts (MW) of power between them, which can power as many as 900,000 Illinois households. However, much of Exelon’s power is sold to commercial and industrial users. The fleet of nuclear power plants in northern Illinois has created one of the most sustainable power grids in the 50 states, and has added to the desirability of the Chicago area as a location for investment in data centers and other facilities that require extremely reliable electrical supplies.  

HIGHER EDUCATION – Illinois public universities moving to test-optional admissions. 

Implementation of the Higher Education Fair Admissions Act, passed by the General Assembly in 2021 and effective this year, means that Illinois residents will no longer be required to submit standardized college admissions test scores as part of their application to an Illinois public university. Standardized testing will remain optional for admissions purposes.  

The adoption of this policy in Illinois is part of an overall move in U.S. higher education away from standardized tests. Some of America’s highest-ranking universities, including Harvard College, no longer require applicants to submit a standardized SAT test score.  

JOBS – Illinois notches unemployment rate of 5.3% in December 2021

While this rate marked a decline from the November 2021 rate of 5.7%, Illinois continued to have joblessness that is much higher than the numbers posted throughout most of the United States, including in states that border Illinois. The national unemployment rate in December 2021 was 3.9%, 1.4% lower than the Illinois rate. In Iowa, which borders Illinois, the rate in the same month was only 3.5%, 1.8% better than Illinois. 

Experts on job creation and economic development point to persistent problems facing many sectors of the Illinois economy, including high taxes, significant crime challenges, burdensome pension debts, a poor public-sector credit rating, labor laws that impose liability burdens on employers and customers, and a physical infrastructure that is only now beginning to be repaired after a long period of neglect. States like Indiana and Iowa do not face these challenges.

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