THE BLOG
06/11/2013 07:19 pm ET | Updated Aug 11, 2013

BGA Legislative Wrap-Up: A Wrongful Convictions Win

The Illinois General Assembly's spring legislative session came and went without lawmakers answering some huge policy questions, especially finding a fix to the state's massive public pension crisis.

Nonetheless, one thing is certain: Issues such as pension reform, gay marriage and expansion of gaming will inevitably resurface either during a special summer or the scheduled fall veto session later this year.

Meanwhile, here is an update of the "good government" reform agenda the BGA focused on during the last legislative session.

WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

The BGA had been working with lawmakers in the House and Senate to pass SB1006, a landmark reform to Illinois' criminal justice system that requires electronic recording of interrogations for eight additional felonies.

On the last day of session (May 31) those efforts successfully resulted in the General Assembly approving a comprehensive wrongful convictions reform bill that is awaiting the Governor's signature.

This result follows nearly two years of advocacy work by the BGA's policy team, lawmakers, criminal justice advocates and other stakeholders.

It follows the BGA's June 2011 investigation, developed with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern University School of Law. That investigation found the top reasons for many wrongful convictions centered on faulty eyewitness identification, or police and prosecutorial error or misconduct.

This spring, an updated version of the investigation revealed that nearly $40 million more has been paid out since the BGA's initial investigation, which had documented $214 million in wrongful conviction-related costs.

Experts predict the total wrongful conviction payout will top $300 million.

Representatives Scott Drury (D-58) and Mike Zalewski (D- 23) fought hard for this measure in the House, bolstered by a commitment from Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22) and support from the Black Caucus. In the Senate, Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13) led the successful effort to nearly unanimous bi-partisan passage of the bill.

When this measure goes into effect, nine types of felony interrogations will be electronically recorded, including the Obama-sponsored requirement that homicide interrogations be recorded.

The BGA believes this new bill will help ensure the integrity of confessions and the justice system and looks forward to it being signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.

ZERO ALCOHOL IMPAIRMENT FOR ON-DUTY POLICE OFFICERS

The BGA worked with Secretary of State Jesse White's office, stakeholders and lawmakers on a zero alcohol impairment policy for on-duty police in Illinois--a new standard that would protect police and the public.

That effort stemmed from a February BGA investigation which found many suburban municipalities and Downstate counties have no consistent standards for blood-alcohol content of on-duty police officers, ranging from a zero tolerance to 0.08, the legal limit for drunk driving in Illinois.

Instead of a creating a statewide standard, the Senate passed a resolution to create a task force to study the issue of officer impairment. That task force will make recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 31, 2013.

While the BGA would have preferred a uniform anti-impairment bill, we look forward to continuing to work alongside the Secretary of State to advocate for a statewide zero-tolerance policy.

STREAMLINING GOVERNMENT

As part of our ongoing effort to improve and streamline government, the BGA closely followed the progress of SB1585, a measure allowing Evanston residents to vote by referendum to discontinue their township.

That bill passed unanimously in the Senate, had broad bi-partisan support in the House and is on its way to the Governor's desk.

In an advisory referendum last year Evanston voters made it clear that they wanted the ability to discontinue their township, but current Illinois law bars single townships from taking that action.

This measure, sponsored by Senator Dan Biss (D-9), applies only to Evanston and takes effect immediately.

Still, the BGA will continue to press for a legislative solution that will allow residents to more easily vote out and abolish unnecessary township governments.

As mentioned, some of the biggest policy issues facing Illinois remain on the table.

There's a possibility that a special session will be called to address those issues and the BGA will keep you posted on that and any other important policy-related and legislative matters.

Emily is the BGA's Policy and Government Affairs coordinator. Contact her at emiller@bettergov.org. Follow her on Twitter @EJMill.