SAFE-T Act concerns or making political hay? McHenry County Board sends resolutions opposing act on party-line vote to Springfield

While Republicans said bills made McHenry County less safe, Democrats pointed to systemic issues in criminal justice system

Posters comparing lethal amounts of heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil, are on display during a news conference about the dangers of fentanyl, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Tuesday, June 6, 2017.

The McHenry County Board took aim at the state Legislature this week, approving resolutions that criticize the SAFE-T Act and a bill that would make possession of greater amounts of fentanyl, cocaine or heroin a misdemeanor.

The resolutions, which opposed House Bill 3447 and the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act were voted on almost completely along party lines.

Each piece of legislation seeks to overhaul aspects of the state’s criminal justice system and has created debate and litigation across state and local governments as the Nov. 8 election approaches.

House Bill 3447, which passed the House of Representatives in April 2021 and has not moved forward in the state Senate since then, would reclassify possession of less than 3 grams of fentanyl, cocaine and heroin as a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by probation or jail time, rather than a Class 4 felony, which could result in longer prison sentences but are also probational.

The SAFE-T Act, portions of which are set to take effect Jan. 1, will eliminate pretrial cash bail and mandate body-worn cameras for law enforcement. While the law has some concerned the changes will make communities less safe, many McHenry County officials have said also raised worries about the extra costs that will come with implementing it.

As a result of those concerns, the McHenry County Board moved Tuesday to send resolutions to the state, denouncing various parts of the two bills.

“I think this resolution [about House Bill 3447], albeit maybe not the … best we would like it to be, I think we need to be able to share something that says, ‘Springfield, we’re watching,’ ” said County Board member Lori Parrish, R-Crystal Lake.

Democrats, who almost unanimously voted against each resolution, unsuccessfully attempted to send both items back to committee for more discussion and also tried to table the vote on the resolution about the SAFE-T Act.

All seven Democrats present voted against the resolution for the SAFE-T Act, while all but County Board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, voted against the resolution opposing House Bill 3447. Wegener abstained, and on Wednesday said she did so because she felt more information was needed before a full vote could take place.

Wegener in a statement Wednesday said the resolutions were brought forth “to create a political issue just before the elections.”

Speaking on House Bill 3447, County Board member Theresa Meshes, D-Fox River Grove, said making something a felony doesn’t save lives.

“I think it’s disingenuous to say that keeping this a felony is saving lives when we know people who go to jail on a felony charge only are going to become more embroiled in a criminal lifestyle,” Meshes said.

County Board member Jim Kearns, R-Huntley, said he supported the resolution against House Bill 3447 because it may spur the state to consider removing the provisions for fentanyl. He added he didn’t think sending it back to committee would change anybody’s vote.

“I don’t trust [our state legislature],” he said. “We’ve had our discussion.”

County Board member Tanya Jindrich, D-Crystal Lake, echoed Meshes’ comments and criticized Kearns for saying he wouldn’t change his mind. Kearns in response described what Jindrich said as “cheap shots.”

“We didn’t care enough about it to look at it for a year-and-a-half,” Jindrich said. “Whether it’s political or not, it sure does look like it.”

Discussion around the SAFE-T Act came after House Bill 3447, and didn’t see as much commentary.

County Board member Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, said the SAFE-T Act has some strong elements, but took issue with the scope of the bill, saying it’s unconstitutional because it deals with multiple issues as opposed to one subject.

The Illinois Constitution requires bills to “be confined to one subject.”

“We have a General Assembly that is ignoring our constitution, their constituents and other levels of government,” Schofield said. “This is ridiculous how they are running the state right now. And that’s the message that [this resolution] sends.”

County Board member Carlos Acosta, D-Woodstock, spoke about his arrest last year. Acosta, formerly a social worker for the Department of Children and Family Services, has been charged with endangering a child in relation to the death of AJ Freund.

Acosta said after posting $2,000 in bail, he was “home in time for dinner.” He said many don’t have that opportunity.

“Our cash bail system is broken,” Acosta said. “A judge should have an opportunity to really make a decision whether somebody is a risk and needs to be in jail. Money should not speak in our judicial system.”

Comments from residents were mostly against the resolutions. Brenda Napholz, president of the BREAK Teen Center in Crystal Lake, said she would like more information on the SAFE-T Act given by the board rather than the “emotional rhetoric that I have seen.”

On House Bill 3447, she said she would like the board to reconsider that as well.

“I lost my son to a fentanyl overdose in December 2019,” she said. “I’m here to tell you that the isolation and the punitive system is detrimental to everybody.”

McHenry County Coroner Michael Rein said he was in favor of the resolution against House Bill 3447. McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally also came out in support.

“Three grams of fentanyl, somebody mentioned that’s a packet of sugar,” Rein said. “Well, that’ll kill everybody in this room.”

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