Senate Week in Review: Oct. 18-22, 2021

SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Oct. 19 to begin the annual fall veto session.

During the week, Republican lawmakers took a stand for parental rights by opposing efforts by the Democrat majority to repeal parental notification of abortion in Illinois.

Later in the week, several members of the Senate Republican caucus, including State Sen. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport), renewed their calls for action on a comprehensive public safety reform package designed to help combat the ongoing spike in violent crime across Illinois.

In other news, a federal court has ruled the first map drawn by Democrat lawmakers using the American Community Survey data to be unconstitutional.

Veto session update

With little legislative action occurring during the first week of scheduled veto session, Stewart said he and his colleagues are anticipating a heavier workload during the three days remaining in the scheduled session.

Several bills could be considered when lawmakers return next week, including possible changes to the Healthcare Right of Conscience law, which allows people the right to refuse to receive or take part in healthcare services that are contrary to their conscience. Some Democrat lawmakers have indicated that they would like to make changes to the long-standing law so that the protections don’t apply to COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.

Another measure that Democrats could bring before the General Assembly would ban so-called “ghost” guns, which are guns built from kits that don’t have serial numbers.

Consideration could also be given to a proposal that would set in place protocols to display the United States flag at half-staff in Illinois, and a possible gaming expansion bill.

Lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol on Oct. 26.

Senate Republicans focus on public safety

On Oct. 20, several Senate Republican members joined together at the Illinois Police Memorial at the Capitol to renew their calls for comprehensive public safety reforms to address the uptick in criminal violence across Illinois.

In response to the surge in violent crime in Chicago and across the state, Senate Republicans filed a package of bills two weeks ago to address the crisis on several fronts. Co-sponsored and supported by Stewart, the package includes a “Fund the Police” component, which would provide a major infusion of resources to criminal justice and mental health programs.

Other components of the package included:

  • Requiring those who assault police officers or bring weapons into penal institutions to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
  • Increasing sentencing for violent gun offenders to a mandatory 10-year sentence for a first offense, and a sentence of life for a second offense.
  • Requiring a minimum 10-year sentence for those who would purchase or supply a gun to any individual who is prohibited from owning a gun.

The press conference also featured Amber Oberheim, the widow of slain Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim who was gunned down while on duty in May 2021. She echoed the calls from Senate Republicans to take action, urging Democrat lawmakers to bring the public safety reform package before members of the General Assembly.

Senate Republicans had formally requested that bills be discussed at a meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee earlier in the week, but their requests were not allowed.

The fall veto session is set to conclude on Oct. 28. Currently, none of the public safety reform bills from the package have been scheduled for a hearing.

Parental rights under attack

As veto session continues, members of the Senate Republicans are continuing to bring attention to attempts to repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion (PNA) Act, which requires that parents of minors be notified before their child receives an abortion procedure. Currently, the law simply stipulates that a parent be informed of the procedure. Parents are not required to provide consent.

Leading up to session, Democrat lawmakers indicated they may attempt a repeal of the PNA during the fall veto session, and Gov. JB Pritzker has expressed his support for the effort. In response, the female members of the Senate Republican Caucus hosted a press conference on Oct. 19 to oppose any efforts to repeal the long-standing act and take a stand for parental rights.

While opponents of the law continually argue that the PNA endangers victims of abuse, Republican senators argue that the PNA law actually provides safeguards to vulnerable minors. The current law provides alternative avenues for minors who may not feel safe sharing their decisions. In the case of sexual abuse, neglect, or physical abuse by an adult family member, a minor who wishes not to have their parent informed can declare this to an attending physician who can grant a notification waiver. Additionally, minors can also choose to seek a waiver in circuit court, where a judge can grant an exemption.

Republican lawmakers argue that efforts to repeal the PNA is a direct attack on parental rights and will leave countless young girls vulnerable at a time when they desperately need support and guidance.

Court seizes redistricting process from Illinois Democrats 

On Oct. 19, a federal court declared the initial legislative map, which had been crafted by Democrat lawmakers behind closed doors, to be unconstitutional.

Earlier this year, Republicans filed a lawsuit, McConchie v. Illinois, asking the courts to review the legislative maps crafted by Democrat lawmakers, noting that the original proposal was drawn without the use of comprehensive federal Census data and drawn by party politicians.

Under the ongoing case, a federal court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by the Republican caucuses and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), declaring that the Democrat map (Public Act 102-2210), passed by the Democratic majorities and signed by Gov. Pritzker, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The court has declared a remedial phase concluding the court has the duty to determine and approve any legislative map going forward. Said another way, the court has seized control of the state’s redistricting process from the Governor and the Democrat majorities.

This ruling validates the concerns of Senate Republicans and other advocacy groups regarding the Democrats’ unconstitutional attempt to gerrymander Illinois’ legislative districts. Stewart said he looks forward to a redistricting process that is constitutional and inclusive of all Illinoisans.

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