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Cunningham legislation to protect exploited DCFS wards passes Illinois Senate

042215CM1012SPRINGFIELD — Criminals who exploit wards of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will now face additional penalties under legislation passed in the Illinois Senate today by State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago). The legislation is an initiative of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

Senate Bill 201 allows sentencing courts to consider a defendant’s knowledge of a prostitution victim’s DCFS status when sentencing. Many wards of the state are extremely susceptible and are in need of extra judicial protections.

"A recent Chicago Tribune series detailed the fact that human traffickers often specifically target and recruit wards of the state who reside in group homes because they see them as vulnerable and susceptible to being lured into a life of prostitution," Cunningham said. "SB 201 would enable judges to enhance the sentences they impose on pimps and traffickers in those cases."

The legislation specifically states that judges may consider the fact that a criminal knew their victim to be a ward of DCFS and consider that knowledge as an aggravating factor when imposing sentences.

“I’m proud to have worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office on this and other legislation designed to protect our most vulnerable children. I will continue to make their protection a priority,” Cunningham said.

The bill now goes to the Illinois House for consideration.

Lightford legislation addresses racial disparities in school discipline

lightford-disciplineSPRINGFIELD – A 2012 study found that Illinois suspends more African-American students than any other state in the U.S., including a Black-White suspension disparity that is the highest in the country. To address this all-too-apparent disparity and the overall frequency of out-of-school discipline, legislation has passed the Senate that will help to ensure that all students are in school and off the streets as much as possible.

“The students who are being tossed out of the school environment are the very students who should be kept within school boundaries at all costs,” said Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, sponsor of the legislation. “We need to keep young people in school learning how to succeed and off of the street corner learning how to fail. Expulsions and suspensions should only be a last resort.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 100, would address the frequency and racial disparity of suspensions and expulsions in several ways, including the following:

  • Disciplinary removals of longer than 3 days must be limited to instances where the student’s presence is an on-going threat to the school, and all other options have been exhausted.
  • A school board must state how a suspension and expulsion is in the best interest of a school before disciplinary action.
  • School districts must establish re-engagement policies for disciplined students.
  • Suspended students must be given the opportunity to make up their work.
  • School officials must limit suspensions and expulsions to the greatest extent practicable.
  • Original research into state records has shown that in the 2010-2011 school year, Illinois students lost 1,117,453 instructional days due to disciplinary actions, 95 percent of which were for minor offenses.

“Illinois’ highest-need students are dropping out of school or ending up in the criminal justice system - at an enormous cost to Illinois taxpayers - for incidents that could have and should have been addressed within the school environment,” said Sen. Lightford. “The confines of the education system are much more advantageous for these students and the future of our state than those of the penal system."

Collins co-sponsors measure to restore critical social services

collins-sb274SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16) is proud to cosponsor legislation that would restore funding for essential social services, including help for families living with autism and payment for burying those whose loved ones cannot afford the expense. Yesterday, the Senate approved the legislation, which was drafted in response to the Rauner administration’s claim that a previous budget agreement fell $26 million short.

“This is the right way to negotiate a budget and ensure vulnerable individuals and their families continue to receive the assistance they need,” Collins said. “Cancelling grants with no notice and no transition plan was the wrong way, and I’m pleased that we are one step closer to reinstating this critical funding and taking a responsible approach to the budget.”

In late March, the General Assembly passed a compromise plan to revive vital programs and services, such as child care assistance, that had run out of money. The legislation relied on reallocating excess money from special-purpose state funds, plus a 2.25 percent across-the-board cut to most types of state spending. Collins and many of her colleagues understood this measure to be a comprehensive solution to the immediate shortfall, yet one week later, the governor’s office abruptly announced the suspension of an additional $26 million in funding for autism services, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, epilepsy treatment, programming for at-risk teens and burial expenses for the poor, among other areas.

“I will continue to advocate for solutions such as closing corporate tax loopholes and strengthening our tax base by investing in programs that break the cycle of poverty, and I will oppose cuts that reconcile the numbers on a short-term balance sheet but do long-term, irreparable damage to communities,” Collins said. “The legislation I co-sponsored will provide needed services and peace-of-mind for many residents, and I hope it also sends a signal that we will negotiate in good faith but will not accept a budget balanced on the backs of the disadvantaged.”

Senate Bill 274 now goes to the House for its consideration.

Cunningham legislation designed to ease overcrowding at Cook County Jail approved by Illinois Senate

Cook County Sheriff Dart testified in favor before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee

042115 js 0697SPRINGFIELD — A plan to help ease overcrowding within the Cook County criminal justice system has been approved by the Illinois Senate following testimony from State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The proposal will set up a pilot “rocket docket” for low-level, non-violent offenders.

Senate Bill 202 creates a special court for offenders charged with retail theft, criminal trespass, along with other low-level offenses. The pilot program would allow the sheriff to designate participants in the program based on past legal history.

"There is a serious need for rebalancing our criminal justice system in a manner that keeps violent offenders behind bars, while drug abusers and defendants charged with nuisance crimes are shifted into treatment programs that could help turn their lives around," Cunningham said. "I'm proud to work with Sheriff Dart on this legislation because it will save taxpayer dollars and streamline our overburdened court system."

Recent reports have highlighted issues within the Cook County criminal justice system, including inmates housed for long periods of time for minor offenses. Examples include a 30 year old woman in jail for 135 days for stealing candy and fruit.

The bill now goes before the Illinois House for consideration.

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