SPRINGFIELD – Senate Republicans called for action during the week to address conditions at the troubled Choate Mental Health Center in southern Illinois and encouraged the Governor to work toward solutions that will allow vulnerable residents a safe, long-term place to live.
Also during the week, several Republican-sponsored bills were passed out of committee and are making their way to the full Senate for consideration.
In other news, the Illinois Supreme Court set a date in March to begin hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of the no-cash bail provision found in the controversial SAFE-T Act.
Republican legislators call for action for Choate Mental Health and Development Center
Following another report by ProPublica detailing disturbing mistreatment of residents at Choate Mental Health and Development Center in Anna, Senate Republicans are calling for action to address these recent allegations, as well as the decades-long mismanagement of the downstate facility.
Last week, all Senate and House Republican Caucus member signed a letter requesting public hearings to discuss the serious concerns regarding the downstate facility, which serves as a home to approximately 270 residents.
At a Capitol press conference on Feb. 23, State Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) joined with several lawmakers to outline potential solutions, including:
- Implementing ongoing staff training,
- Instituting a mass hiring of qualified staff,
- Tracking staff incidents by location and trends,
- Increasing administrative and security inspections,
- Improving overall accountability of staff performance, and
- Assigning an interim director or assistant director.
Sen. Tracy, whose brother is a long-time resident at Choate, echoed the calls of her colleagues for the maintenance and upkeep of the buildings.
“The facility is home to more than 270 of our state’s most vulnerable residents. What does the condition of the buildings and grounds say about the state’s concern for Choate’s residents? What does the condition say to new staff and visitors?” asked Sen. Tracy. “It says to me that these residents are not a priority, and that the state’s lack of concern for them is reflected by the dismal, and arguably abandoned, appearance of the facility.”
Choate Mental Health and Development Center has been in the news cycle for multiple instances recently related to abuse and general poor conditions at the facility. Sen. Tracy says it’s imperative that the Governor’s Administration work with the Legislature to address these issues so that this vital facility can continue to serve the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Senate Republican bills move through Committees
Legislative committee action picked up during the week in the Senate as legislators presented a wide variety of bills in Senate committees.
Before legislation can make its way to the Senate Floor for a vote, it must first be vetted through the committee process. Bills that receive a successful number of votes in committee then move on for consideration of the full Senate.
Several Republican measures made their way out of committee during the week, including:
- Senate Bill 1356 (co-sponsored by Sen Tracy): Requires the Illinois Board of Higher Education to annually compile a list of the most in-demand jobs in Illinois, along with the starting and median salaries for those occupations, and the education levels required to enter those fields.
- Senate Bill 1595: Allows families of veterans who have been honorably discharged to receive a free certified death certificate.
- Senate Bill 1534: Requires that if a veteran with a surviving spouse dies while an application for a veteran’s homestead exemption is being reviewed, the review of that application will continue, and any subsequent approval granted to the veteran will carry over to the surviving spouse if the spouse meets the specified requirements.
- Senate Bill 1485: Provides that if a park district board’s membership has been expanded or reduced by referendum or resolution, the additional members will be elected not earlier than 197 days after the referendum or resolution to ensure that candidates who have filed petitions for office are not impacted by the new terms.
To track legislative action throughout the spring legislative session, go to www.ilga.gov.
Illinois Supreme Court sets hearing date for SAFE-T Act appeal
The Illinois Supreme Court has set the date of March 14 to begin hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the no-cash bail provision of the SAFE-T Act. In late December, a judge in Kankakee County ruled in favor of more than 60 State’s Attorneys as it was declared the controversial provision violated the Illinois Constitution.
The no-cash bail system was set to go into effect on Jan. 1; however, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Dec. 31 to halt the implementation of the no-cash bail system following the lower court’s ruling. The Supreme Court’s ruling was issued to make sure different systems weren’t being used in different counties while the court case moved forward. In its order, the Illinois Supreme Court said the ruling was to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois” as 65 counties were included in the lawsuit while the other 37 counties were still planning on implementing the no-cash bail system.
While Illinois courts are still deciding the fate of the no-cash bail system, other portions of the SAFE-T Act are already being implemented, including requiring body cameras on law enforcement personnel, more police training, and new guidelines for the decertification of police officers.