Lawsuits, legislators hope to alter Illinois' no-cash bail law taking effect Jan. 1

The measure faces a consolidated lawsuit from dozens of states' attorneys and sheriffs and, since its passing, has led to debate between lawmakers about what is a detainable offense.

Updated: November 20, 2022 - 11:05pm

With Illinois state lawmakers set to return to Springfield after Thanksgiving for one more week of session before the new year, questions remain on what will change with the Pretrial Fairness Act set to eliminate cash bail statewide on Jan. 1.

The Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity Today, or SAFE-T, Act, was approved by the previous General Assembly in early January 2021. It makes several changes to the criminal justice system, including eliminating cash bail for certain offenses statewide with the Pretrial Fairness Act, making it the first state to do so.

The measure faces a consolidated lawsuit from dozens of states' attorneys and sheriffs and, since its passing, has led to debate between lawmakers about what is a detainable offense. The debate heated up heading into the Nov. 8 elections.

In the first week of the fall veto session after the elections, community activists joined alongside legislators at the state Capitol to defend the measure. State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, pushed against any changes.

"We are not saying anything about those who are guilty. We are saying, based on what you told us in our constitution, that we are innocent until proven guilty," West said during a rally at the statehouse. "If I am still innocent, I should still be free. That should not be based on how much money I have. It should be based on the constitution."

Republicans have called for repealing the measure due to how Democrats handled it, said state Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove.

"The Democrats decided to go at this alone and let the extremes of their party and the extremes of their base drive that agenda," Curran said. "Since then, for the last two years, we have had nothing but divisiveness throughout this state on the issues of public safety."

West said there was no pushback from the Republicans until election season.

"The one thing that ailed me during this time, because I am so glad to be standing here with my colleagues, but if you remember, they did not demonize pretrial fairness till September when they were making it a political talking point," West said.

Curran said this would not have been a prominent issue if the law enforcement community and Republicans had been more included in the conversation.

"If they had included Republicans, and they still have not included Republicans, we would get a more balanced approach to public policies and balancing civil liberties and the right to be safe in your community," Curran said.

Lawmakers return for three scheduled days the week after Thanksgiving. They wouldn't return to close out this two-year term until just before Jan. 11, 2023, which starts a new General Assembly.

Greg Bishop contributed to this report.