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Senate approves Cunningham-sponsored “Safeguard our Children” Act

041515CM0232SPRINGFIELD — A system to help locate children who are reported missing from Department of Children and Family Services custody has passed the Illinois Senate. The Safeguard our Children Act is sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) and is an initiative of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

Senate Bill 1775 spells out what is required from the DCFS once a youth in their custody is reported missing. The legislation states that DCFS must report the missing youth to local law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Illinois State Police must also develop a network to help with locating missing DCFS wards.

“Over the years, I have heard of numerous cases of DCFS wards going missing. Unfortunately, many times, the local law enforcement entities are not made aware of these missing children,” Cunningham said. “With this law, we hope that we will be able to find runaway wards as quickly as possible, helping protect them from possible exploitation.”

From 2011 until 2013, residential DCFS facilities reported 29,425 incidents of missing wards, averaging 27 runaway reports per day. Many residential facilities do not report the runaways to local law enforcement.

“Protecting our children, no matter what their situation, is a priority of mine. I’m proud to have worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office on this legislation and will continue to work with them to safeguard those who are under our custody,” Cunningham said.

The legislation now goes to the Illinois House for consideration.

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.

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.

Cunningham bill to eliminate annual reapplication of Homestead Exemption passes Illinois Senate

041415CM0234SPRINGFIELD — Legislation sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) to eliminate the need for an annual reapplication for the Senior Citizen Homestead Exemption has passed the Illinois Senate.  
 
The Senior Citizen Homestead Exemption, a residential property tax exemption for Illinois residents aged 65 or older, is designed to help senior citizens financially.  Most years, the information needed to qualify for the exemption does not change. But state law requires seniors in Cook County to file paperwork annually and in some cases, to make trips to county courthouses to ensure they qualify, creating a hardship for those the exemption is intended to help.
 
"The current law places an unfair and sometimes confusing burden on seniors," Cunningham said. "Forcing some of our most vulnerable citizens to repeatedly file the same paperwork year- after-year is not only a waste of resources, it could lead to a situation where seniors are denied a tax break they've earned."  
 
In order to ensure senior exemptions are not awarded to residents who don't qualify, Cunningham's legislation also requires the Cook County Assessor's Office and the Recorder of Deeds Office to set up a communications system to alert the Assessor any time a home receiving a senior exemption is sold. This safeguard would prevent younger homeowners from "inheriting" a senior exemption for the previous owner.  
 
"By requiring county agencies to share information about housing transactions, we eliminate concerns about fraudulent exemptions being awarded and we shift the renewal burden from senior citizens to government agencies that should be tracking this information," Cunningham said. “This will hopefully give piece of mind to our seniors in Cook County and allow them to live their lives without this time consuming exercise.”  
 
Senate Bill 1488 now goes to the Illinois House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Bill Cunningham

 Cunningham2014

Assistant Majority Leader
President Pro Tempore
18th Legislative District

Years served: 2013 - Present

Committee assignments: Energy and Public Utilities; Executive Appointments; Higher Education; Insurance; Assignments (Vice-Chairperson); Executive (Vice-Chairperson).

Biography: Born July 21, 1967. Full-time state legislator and lifelong resident of the 18th Senate District. Graduate of Mt. Carmel High School; B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Former Chief of Staff and Director of Communications for the Cook County Sheriff's Office. Previously served as a State Representative (2011-13) and as an elected member of the Sutherland Local School Council. Resides in Chicago's Beverly community with wife, Juliana, and two daughters, Madeline and Olivia.

Associated Representatives:
Kelly M. Burke
Frances Ann Hurley