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Measures advance addressing unlawful weapons definitions, pretrial services

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(The Center Square) – Measures advancing at the Illinois Statehouse could bring changes to how some people are charged with certain crimes and provide more access to pretrial services.

House Bill 4500 passed the House last week in a vote of 68-36. The measure changes the titles of two offenses to what sponsors say will more accurately reflect the charges. If enacted, “unlawful use of a weapon” would change to “unlawful possession of a weapon” and “armed habitual criminal” would change to “persistent unlawful possession of a weapon.”

There would be no change in penalties.

Carrying the bill for sponsor state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, was state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. She said it’s not just semantics.

“It really comes out of the reentry space where people who don’t live in this world as we do [as state legislators] see the title of the offense and think it means something much more nefarious than it really does mean,” she said.

At a committee hearing earlier in the legislative session, Buckner explained that some people have been charged with unlawful use of a weapon for just possessing a weapon unlawfully at a traffic stop, not while in commission of another crime.

Originally, the bill required retroactive reclassification for previous offenses. Law enforcement groups pushed back and said that would exacerbate already stressed personnel. The approved amendment removed that and lifted law enforcement opposition, though they don’t support the bill.

“I spoke to the [Illinois Sheriffs’ Association] this morning and confirmed that they remain neutral,” Cassidy said Friday.

The measure now awaits action in the Senate.

House Bill 4621 from state Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, sets up the Office of Statewide Pretrial Services as a standalone agency within the Illinois Supreme Court. Of the 102 counties in Illinois, 74 counties are already utilizing such services. Slaughter’s measure would provide such services at no additional cost to the counties, but taxpayers would see an increase of $2.7 million initially.

“You can get these services through the statewide apparatus or the local apparatus,” he said before the measure passed Friday in a vote of 69-38.

State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, opposed the measure philosophically.

“I think these offices are better handled either in the counties or at the circuit level,” he said.

The state is 37 years late in creating a standalone state agency for pretrial services, Slaughter said. He also acknowledged the issue of pretrial services has come into more focus with increased numbers of people being released through the Pretrial Fairness Act approved as part of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act.

“This is actually in response to the requirement of the Pretrial Services Act of 1987. I’d be remiss to say that, yes, the SAFE-T Act put these services back on the table in 2021,” he said.

The measure awaits further action in the Senate.