THE BLOG
05/06/2013 10:06 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

BGA Legislative Update: Progress on Wrongful Convictions

As the Illinois General Assembly enters one of the busiest periods of the spring legislative session, the Better Government Association's policy team is advancing some important good government initiatives, including wrongful conviction reforms.

The BGA also is working with the Illinois Secretary of State's office, lawmakers and policy advocates to pass a bill calling for zero tolerance for alcohol in the blood stream of police officers on the job.

Both efforts are proposed legislative remedies aimed at solving problems uncovered in BGA investigations. This month, the BGA followed up on its groundbreaking June 2011 investigation into the high financial and human cost of wrongful convictions and in February revealed a widely accepted policy of suburbs and municipalities allowing police and firefighters to come to work with blood alcohol levels ranging from .02 to just below .08 percent -- the state's legal definition of drunk.

In addition, the BGA continues to closely monitor the state's large financial and economic development issues including pension reform and gaming expansion. As usual, the BGA continues to advocate for more open government through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and other transparency-related laws.

The spring session is scheduled to end in late May. Here's an update on the BGA agenda:

The House and the Senate passed measures aimed at reducing wrongful convictions.

  • Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13) led efforts in the Senate to allow investigators to record interrogations of suspects in all felony investigations with SB1006. Those recordings are currently limited to homicide interrogations. The BGA supports Senator Raoul and applauds his efforts to pass the bill in the Senate. Now it's on to the House, where the BGA will work with supporters toward gaining approval for this important reform.
  • Representative Scott Drury (D-58) helped to win passage of HB2961, a bill that ensures the wrongfully convicted have the opportunity to petition for a new hearing when there is new evidence of innocence. We'll continue working hard to make sure this bill gets a full hearing in the Senate.

The BGA is in negotiations with policy makers to create a zero alcohol impairment policy for on duty police in Illinois.

  • The BGA is working alongside members of the law enforcement community to increase the safety of policy officers and the public by implementing a zero alcohol impairment policy in Illinois for officers reporting for duty. This effort comes on the heels of a BGA investigation that uncovered that municipalities and counties have no consistent standards, and range from a zero tolerance for alcohol in the blood stream, to permitting up to .08 percent -- the legal limit for drunk driving in Illinois. We're committed to developing a standard that ensures the safety our first responders and the people they protect.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a measure to streamline township government.

  • The BGA previously highlighted SB1585, which allows residents in Evanston to choose for themselves whether to officially merge their township and city government. Currently, Illinois law bars local communities from choosing whether their township government, an often antiquated and redundant taxing body, continues to provide a needed service. That bill passed in the Senate with a unanimous vote, and has made its way to the House where we'll be pushing hard for its passage.

With one month to go in the spring General Assembly session, the BGA is pushing hard for reforms that create a more just, accountable and efficient Illinois government. Through it all, we'll be sure to keep you informed so you can call on your elected officials to take action.

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