(The Center Square) – A controversial law ending cash bail Jan. 1 dominated Illinois’ political debate in 2022. But implementation awaits a decision from a Kankakee County judge in a lawsuit brought by more than 60 state’s attorneys from across Illinois.
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity Today, or SAFE-T Act, was approved by the General Assembly in January 2021. It makes several changes to the criminal justice system in the state, including eliminating cash bail statewide, making Illinois the first state to do so.
The measure was met with pushback from large segments of the law enforcement community statewide, who say the act could allow harmful to allow alleged criminals back on the street as they await trial.
In November, state Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, said the passage of the SAFE-T Act was unconstitutional.
“We are at a particular point where this goes into effect on Jan. 1, and we got … state attorneys that are highly questioning this particular piece of legislation,” Niemerg told The Center Square. “Furthermore, the constitutionality of the measure is very much in question.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who won a second term in November, suggested changes to the bill’s language to clear up any misunderstanding.
“So let us amend the act to make it very explicit,” Pritzker said in October. “Those violent criminals that are in jail awaiting trial, that Jan. 1 is not some deadline to let people out.”
Pritzker said the SAFE-T Act intends to do the opposite of what he said Republicans claim it will do.
“One of the purposes of the SAFE-T Act is to keep our neighborhoods safe,” Pritzker said. “It is to make sure that people who are awaiting trial and are non-violent, who may have committed a low-level offense, do not sit in jail because they do not have a few hundred dollars.”
The measure went to court, with dozens of state’s attorneys filing separate lawsuits. Those were later consolidated into a single case out of Kankakee County.
After the election, state lawmakers came back to legislative session and passed an amendment to the SAFE-T Act that creates a net of detainable offenses an individual can be held pending trial, among other changes. That didn’t deter the legal challenge.
Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe argued against the SAFE-T Act last week. Rowe claimed the measure was unconstitutional by violating the state’s single-subject law, which confines legislation to only one subject. In addition, he argued that the whole measure is invalid because there is a provision related to redistricting maps.
Darren Kinkead, who argued on behalf of the state, claimed the measure does not violate any single-subject laws because the redistricting would have to do with prisoners and would be included as a part of the criminal justice system.
The Kankakee County judge said he would render a decision in this case by Dec. 28, just days before no-cash bail takes effect.