Having decided not to ask voters if they would support justice system reforms with a new sales tax, Kane County Board members will instead ask the Chief Justice and State’s Attorney to make the reforms less expensive.
Most Kane County elected officials support the ideas behind the state’s SAFE-T law. The 2021 state legislation attempts to address racial and economic bias in the system by eliminating cash bail and requiring peace officers to wear body cameras, among other reforms. But it provides no new funding to implement what most see as major and costly changes to the legal system.
Kane County court system officials are calling for 116 new staff over the next few years to handle reviewing hours of video footage and in-depth reviews of who should be held in jail or may be released pending trial .
These new employees will put a dent in the county’s budget which will increase by approximately $13 million per year for the next three years. This has left county council members scrambling to find new funds to pay for these ongoing future expenses.
Some Republican board members have considered ignoring the mandate and seeing what the consequences are. The belief is that most counties will find that they cannot find the money or the additional staff needed to meet the implementation schedule. If everyone else fails, it could push state lawmakers to change the law.
“The SAFE-T law is completely fiscally irresponsible,” said county council member John Martin. “You’re not going to get the people of Kane County to find enough money to support every penny of this law. I understand there’s no will in Springfield to change that. They’re going to see as many counties like there are in Illinois (102) all lying on their backs with their legs up because it’s not fiscally feasible.”
After failing in their effort to get a sales tax referendum on the ballot to back the reforms, council Democrats now appear to be rallying to the GOP’s point of view. But instead of sending it back to the state, they want the solution to come from the county court system.
Several Democrats on the board have suggested for the first time that State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser, who is also a Democrat, is asking too much for new staff and office space.
“Why are we hiring so many people? asked County Council President Corinne Pierog. “Similar counties aren’t asking as many individuals to support the SAFE-T Act. We don’t want to be bankrupt. Can it be a slower process so we can afford it?”
Neither Mosser nor any other member of the judiciary was present to answer these questions. It fueled a bipartisan agreement in County Council to call on Mosser, Chief Justice Clint Hull and other independent lawmakers in the judiciary to find a “naked” way to address the state’s mandate.
This discussion will take place at the next meeting of the county council’s judicial and public safety committee on September 15.