Tuesday, February 15, 2011

House, Senate bills could reinstate death penalty

By Lauren N. Johnson

Two Republican lawmakers today urged Gov. Pat Quinn to veto legislation that would abolish Illinois’ death penalty.

Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Addison and Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale proposed legislation that could reinstate the death penalty in Illinois if Quinn signs the abolition bill into law.

House Bill 1520, sponsored by Reboletti, would place a referendum on the 2012 general election ballot asking Illinois voters if they are favor of capital punishment. Reboletti said the public had little to no input in the voting process that he said was rushed through the lame-duck legislative session in January. While the death penalty cannot be abolished or reinstated through a voter referendum, Reboletti said he would respect the choice of voters. The only way the public could directly decide whether Illinois has the death penalty would be through a constitutional amendment passed by the legislature and approved by voters.

“Gov. Quinn has always been an advocate of letting the people's voice be heard through referendums throughout his four decades of service to this state, so we are hopeful that he would be supportive of this measure,” Reboletti said.

Dillard introduced Senate Bill 2276 to reduce eligibility for the death penalty to what he called the “worst of the worst” of crimes, a group of criminals he defined as killers of police officers and correctional guards, heinous child murderers and serial murderers.

“Some of my colleagues on the other side were forced to take [Senate Bill 3539] or leave it. The death penalty to me is not a ‘take it or leave it’ situation; it’s to be used very judicially in limited circumstances,” Dillard said.

Dillard also introduced Senate Bill 2277, which calls for creation of a panel – prosecutors, state’s attorneys from Cook County and downstate Illinois, a representative from the attorney general’s office and a retired judge – intended to guarantee that Illinois' judicial system would use more discretion in applying the death penalty.

Quinn has until March 18 to take action on the bill, according to his office. If he fails to act, the measure automatically becomes law.

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