Thursday, March 03, 2011

Legislative roundup

By Lauren N. Johnson

Legislators this week reacted to a controversial decision from Attorney General Lisa Madigan on the privacy right of gun owners and voted on bills regarding the punishment of sex offenders.

Earlier this week, Madigan said the names of registered gun owners in the state should be open to the public because the list is a public record of a licensing system administered by the state and, therefore, should be subject to review. Only names and not addresses or hometowns would be released.

However, Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said that releasing the names of at least 1.3 million gun owners, as well as applicants for Firearm Owner's Identification Cards issued by the Illinois State Police, would be poor public policy. Dillard said the issue is a matter of public safety and privacy. Senate Bill 27, sponsored by Dillard, would require that information of applicants and holders of FOID cards remain private and not released by any state or local law enforcement agency. “I believe that the attorney general’s opinion is against the public safety of the state, it puts more illegal guns on the street and it would lead to more straw purchases and non-compliance,” Dillard said. He has Democratic support for his bill in the Senate, he said.

The House shot down a bill that addressed so-called Romeo and Juliet sex offense cases. House Bill 1139 would have allowed offenders not more than four years older than their victims to petition to be excluded from the sex offender registry if the sexual encounter was consensual and the victim was at least 14 years old. Pritchard said that he thinks the bill failed because legislators feared that a “yes” vote could be used by political opponents during election season to make them look soft on crime. Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a Elmhurst Republican, questioned giving Illinois judges the discretion to choose who should register as a sex offender. "I have prosecuted these types of cases many times, and prosecutors struggle with it because of the age difference of the victims," said Reboletti. He said the legislature should first determine what the age of consent for sexual relations should be in Illinois.

Legislators approved House Bill 1161, sponsored by Rep. Richard Morthland, a Moline Republican, to end the statute of limitation on sex offenses for victims under 18 years old. Currently, after victims turn 18, they have 20 years to report a sexual assault that occurred when they were children. The measure still needs approval in the Senate.

A measure to require schools to educate parents, students and coaches on the dangers of concussions, sometimes incurred while playing sports, passed in the House with no opposition. House Bill 200, sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, would also require student athletes suspected of having a concussion to be cleared by a doctor before returning to play. Cross said he plans to work with sponsors of similar bills in the Senate to pass a unified plan.

Multiple bills that would allow for the concealed carry of a firearm did not come up for a vote in the House Agriculture Committee this week. However, Rep. Patrick Verschoore, vice chair of the committee and a Milan Democrat, said they are scheduled for debate next Tuesday. The committee did pass House Bill 2045, which would strip gun control powers of local municipalities and reserve the right to regulate the storage of firearms to the state.

The committee also approved House Bill 1383, sponsored by Rep. Ken Dunkin, a Chicago Democrat, which would allow farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp for purposes of fuel, food, fiber and hemp-based products. Those wanting to grow hemp would have to undergo a criminal background check. “There was a lot of this belief that [hemp] was somehow going to be made into marijuana, but I think the reality is, industrial hemp has a tremendous agricultural benefit,” said Rep. Jim Sacia, a Pecatonica Republican, who has advocated the measure in the past.


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