A prisoner's right to vote should not trump criminal penalty enhancement legislation, according to GOP lawmakers.
HB4469, sponsored by Rep. Juliana Stratton (D-Chicago), which provides that the Board of Elections work with local authorities in each county to assure pre-trial detainees can vote, was pulled from the record at the during House dedate April 23; however the bill returned the following day to continue the contentious two-day debate.
Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said he speaks for all GOP lawmakers when saying the party will continue to stand for the package of bills killed by the House majority a couple of weeks ago, bills that would have enhanced criminal penalties in cases involving Division of Children and Family Service employees killed on the job and for victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse, before they will side with criminals.
“I don’t think our side of the aisle is prepared to work on and pass these types of initiatives where there is an imbalance between the victims of crimes and perpetrators crime,” Durkin said.
Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) said that in the rush to consider prisoners, lawmakers have lost the care for the victims, to which Stratton countered by saying pretrial detainees are innocent until proven guilty.
Like Durkin, Breen said if Democrats would have considered working with the GOP caucus on the package of penalty enhancement bills rather than shoot them down a week earlier in committee maybe he could support Stratton's bill.
“I think I remember seeing your name on the roll call killing some of those bills,” Breen said.
Breen said in any other General Assembly across the country, the package of GOP bills would have passed in a bipartisan manner.
“The fact is the focus in this General Assembly for too long has been on the criminals and not the victims,” Breen said.
Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) questioned why Stratton exempted her district from certain provisions that counties with a 3 million prison population be provided temporary polling places.
“So, Chicago gets to make their own rules and the rest of the state has to follow what this body says,” Davidsmeyer said.
Stratton said it was not about Chicago, rather about Cook County, and she drafted the bill in a way to allow local control for counties to decide if they wanted to allow prisoners to vote by mail or at an on-site polling booth.
“Why not afford the same local control for counites with over 3 million individuals?” Davidsmeyer asked.
According to Stratton, it would not make sense for election authorities to set up a temporary polling place for smaller prison populations.
After Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) said she contacted all of her counties and was asked not to vote for the bill, Rep. Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) noted after four years in the General Assembly, all she has seen is GOP concerns disrespected and mocked.
“I am tired of supporting social justice reform for free and I am over it,” McDermed said.
After a heated debate, and Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) asking for a vote verification, Stratton pulled the bill from the record.
But the proposal was back the next day, and Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) ran through a scenario involving a DUI driver. He said while the criminal was in prison for harming four others and being given accommodations to vote, the victims of the accident remain in the hospital and are offered no chance to cast a ballot.
“There are plenty of circumstances where it is difficult for people to get to the voting booth,” Batinick said, adding that giving the constitutional right to vote to prisoners is not his priority.
“There are plenty of people who have difficult circumstances that come upon them and I think you should start there first,” Batinick said.
Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) asked Stratton how many prisoners were ever denied the right to vote.
Stratton said none to her knowledge, however she was told prison staff members denied pre-trial detainees ballots since they thought a prisoner was not allowed to vote.
Ives said rather than passing a bill, posting a sign in the prison would do the same and having a prisoner's family member assist them could work.
Concluding the two-day debate, Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said Stratton presented facts in committee and on the floor that were not verifiable, and he believed the matter should be handled by election officials rather than lawmakers.
HB4469 passed 64-37 and was moved to the Senate.