Senate Dems work to prevent future Hastert cases

hastert prison

Yesterday, former U.S. House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert became Inmate No. 47991-424 when he entered a Minnesota federal prison hospital to begin a 15-month sentence for bank fraud to cover up child sex abuse. The former Yorkville teacher became a Republican state legislator then congressman, and is now an admitted sex abuser and a prisoner.

After the initial shock at the testimony by a victim and a victim’s sister at Hastert’s sentencing hearing, two key questions arose: why could he not be tried for the sex crimes aside from the financial fraud, and would he continue to receive retirement benefits for his public service?

Within days, plans were underway in the Illinois State Senate to address both questions at a state level.

State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) will lead a Senate committee on Statutes of Limitation to examine the fairness of limitations for felony criminal sexual abuse and sex crimes against children.

During Hastert’s trial, Judge Thomas Durkin noted that Hastert avoided serious legal consequences because of current statute of limitations in Illinois’ state courts. Statutes of limitation restricts the time during which authorities can charge someone with a crime after it occurs.

bennett cmteThis spring Bennett introduced an initiative to remove the statute of limitations for felony criminal sexual abuse and sex crimes against children, which allows for the prosecution of these offenses at any time.

“We need to find ways to better protect our children,” Bennett said. “At times, victims of abuse need time to find courage to address these horrific crimes. Our goal is to give them the option to confront their abuser when they are ready.”

Under current law cases similar to the charges brought against Hastert, victims must report cases of abuse within 20 years after they have turned 18.  

To address public outrage about Hastert’s taxpayer-funded pension benefits, State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood) filed legislation to strip him of his General Assembly retirement pension.

“I am going to pursue the total removal of Hastert’s GARS pension; any amount is too much,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “He confessed to molesting children. His pensions need to be eliminated. Period.”

jbt hastertHastert had also qualified for pension benefits for his tenure as a teacher. The Illinois’ Teachers Retirement System has canceled Hastert’s pension.

The General Assembly Retirement System has suggested reducing Hastert’s state lawmaker pension from $28,000 to $9,000, but Bertino-Tarrant says that’s not enough.

Under legislation Bertino-Tarrant has introduced, Senate Bill 442, a member could lose their pension at any time if they commit a felony against a student or other victim.

This plan would allow Hastert’s pension to be revoked.

Last month, Bertino-Tarrant sent a letter to GARS requesting that Hastert’s pension be immediately revoked. The senator also sent a letter to Attorney General Lisa Madigan requesting that she provide a legal argument to the board in support of Hastert no longer receiving a pension.

Bertino-Tarrant has also signed on as a sponsor of HB 1127 which would allow prosecution for criminal sexual abuse and other sex crimes against minors to occur at any time.