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Illinois Lawmakers Hear Arguments On Rauner's Death Penalty Plan

Daisy Contreras
NPR Illinois
The Illinois House Judiciary - Criminal Committee held a special hearing May 21, 2018 to discuss Gov. Bruce Rauner's death penalty proposal.

An Illinois House committee Monday discussed Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to reinstate the death penalty for mass shooters and for those who murder police officers. The proposal is part of a broader public safety plan put forth in an amendatory veto.  

Lawmakers were joined by those on both sides of the issue – including former Democratic state Rep. Karen Yarbrough. She sponsored the death penalty abolition legislation in 2011 which was signed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn.

Yarbrough said while she supports harsh penalties for murderers, she believes capital punishment isn’t the answer. She asked the General Assembly to instead focus on other criminal justice reform initiatives. “I believe that we can have justice without the death penalty. We know that the death penalty is hard to apply fairly, we know it’s extremely expensive to litigate and we know it doesn’t deter crime.”

In favor of the governor’s plan is the Illinois State Police director, Leo Schmitz, who said the death penalty is an option to prevent the killing of more police officers.  

Many were surprised by the governor’s suggestions – especially when the governor’s own public safety working group has been meeting regularly to discuss different solutions. Some members say they wonder why the governor did not discuss the capital punishment plan with them first.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis, an Addison Democrat, is part of the group and called Rauner's death penalty suggestion a "poison pill". She asked David Risley, director of criminal justice and public safety policy for the Governor's Office if Rauner intended to run the show himself after bypassing the group. "So in other words, he puts no value behind the public safety working group,  that we have no input on the things that he wants to work on?" 

Risley said the governor didn’t want to interfere with the working group’s own ideas. “What he wanted to do was lay these things on the table, instead of sitting back and being like a punching bag for critics. He wanted to lay on the table what he was for, affirmatively, instead of just playing defense."

Rauner’s proposal is part of an amendatory veto to a gun-related measure that would have extended the wait time for assault rifle purchases to three days. Under his broader public safety proposal, all firearms would have this extension.  

The committee will return Wednesday to discuss the remaining details the governor has put forth, including mental health and school safety. 

Daisy reported on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project. She's a Public Affairs Reporting program graduate from the University of Illinois Springfield. She also graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has an associates degrees from Truman College. Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.
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