Springfield bipartisanship is alive and well

By STATE SEN. KWAME RAOUL (D-13)

Less than a month from operating without an agreed-upon budget, as vicious rhetorical attacks mount, Illinois state government causes many of us to wonder, “Why can’t they all get along?” And why put partisan bickering ahead of the public good?

There’s another side to this story.

At the end of May, with wide bipartisan support, a major law enforcement reform package I negotiated and sponsored passed the General Assembly and needs only the governor’s signature to become law.

Hammering out the legislation, which includes rules for body cameras, a ban on chokeholds, improved sensitivity training for police, mandatory outside investigations of officer-involved deaths and much more, was no easy task. In an environment shaped by Ferguson, Baltimore and an increasing public awareness of racial disparities, these issues were potentially divisive. Yet I was able to bring together community groups and law enforcement to agree on commonsense legislation that respects privacy, civil rights and public safety. My colleagues and I directed the conversation toward one common goal: improving relations between police and the communities they serve. Cops, the individuals they interact with and whole neighborhoods will be safer as a result.

The governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, on which I serve, is finally tackling in a comprehensive, bipartisan manner the dysfunction of our criminal justice system. Our prisons are overcrowded, and offenders are not getting the treatment and training they need to hold down jobs and stay out of trouble upon release. We are witnessing a bipartisan push to enact desperately needed reforms, and as a longtime champion of smart-on-crime policies, I’m excited to be a leader in this movement.
I’ve already secured passage of several criminal justice reform measures. A plan to stem the flow of juveniles to adult courts and prisons came out of my work with Toni Preckwinkle. Legislation making sure judges take into account when a defendant has experienced domestic violence and decreasing needless overcrowding in the Cook County Jail by limiting bail bond costs were also cooperative efforts.

I partnered with Republican Senator Kyle McCarter to make it easier to crack down on new types of synthetic drugs, and legislation I passed to protect youth recovering from concussions also enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.

I could go on, but the point is that Republicans and Democrats not only can work together to solve thorny problems; they’ve been doing it all along. The budget we passed last month keeps spending on services level with the previous fiscal year’s, and it funds priorities that Democrats, Republicans and even the governor agree are worthwhile. In fact, in March, both sides of the aisle supported — and the governor signed — an emergency plan to pay for those agreed-upon priorities.

This impasse is not a fundamental disagreement over what state government should do; it’s a case of the governor insisting the legislature sign off on hastily drafted items on the governor’s checklist that are totally unrelated to whether schools open in the fall, whether senior citizens can stay in their homes or whether state workers are paid to do thousands of tasks most of us take for granted. It’s holding short-term necessities hostage to a long-term process. When done right, those careful, inclusive, long-term discussions lead to progress, as in the case of law enforcement reform. When done carelessly, they bring us to where we are now on the budget.