SPRINGFIELD — A measure to tackle high-profile “smash-and-grabs” and other organized retail crime was among dozens of bills passed in the General Assembly’s final sprint toward its adjournment Saturday morning.
Its supporters, including the Illinois Attorney General and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, have called it one of the nation’s strongest moves to define organized crime in retail while increasing capacity. prosecutors to hold criminals accountable.
Republicans, for the most part, voted for the bill, but several GOP lawmakers called it watered down and withdrew their names as co-sponsors after a late amendment was tabled to appease protest groups. victims of crime and civil liberties organizations.
House Bill 1091, which will still need to be approved by the governor to become law, defines “organized retail crime” in state law in an effort to reduce the ability of offenders to avoid the lawsuits.
Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, D-Western Springs, lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said it seeks to prevent “the big fish from making the little fish fly.”
Senate Amendment 4 changed the bill’s focus to identify the ringleaders, or “managers,” of organized retail crime rings, creating stiffer penalties for them than for low-level individuals who steal in stores and may be victims of human trafficking.
This amendment states that an individual commits a retail felony and is liable to a class 3 felony charge when, “in concert with” another individual or group, the person “knowingly commits” retail theft from one or several retailers.
Committing assault or intentionally damaging the property of the retail establishment would also fall within the definition. Anyone committing battery as part of such a crime could be charged with a Class 2 felony.
A person is guilty of being a ringleader of a retail organized crime operation if he or she recruits individuals, supervises finances, or directs others to commit retail theft with intent to resell retail merchandise. worth more than $300. Ringleaders can also be found guilty if goods are stolen while in transit from the manufacturer to the retail establishment.
Ringleaders, or “managers” as they are called in the bill, would face Class 2 felony charges.
After midnight in the Senate, HB 1091 passed 42-10, later passing the House 96-5 with Democratic Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana and Chicago Reps. Curtis Tarver, Mary Flowers, Will Guzzardi and Kelly Cassidy voting no .
The effort to combat organized retail crime is also supported by a $5 million investment in the state budget, enabling the Attorney General’s Office to provide grants to state attorneys and law enforcement who investigate and prosecute organized retail crime.
During the House debate, Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Republican from Western Springs who voted for the measure, said he was disappointed the bill was “the best we can do.”
Durkin linked his argument to criminal justice reform Democrats passed in January 2021, which Republicans have repeatedly seized on to call Democrats soft on crime.
These repeated critiques of the criminal justice reform known as the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, Equity-Today Act have, to a large extent, driven some of the public safety-centric proposals put forward by Democrats this year, including including the retail crime measure.
Durkin focused his arguments on Saturday on the SAFE-T Act creating a cashless bond system that will not take effect until January 1, 2023. Under the cash bond provision, bonds and bail conditions will be replaced by a bail system to be worked out by Illinois courts based on an inmate’s alleged crime, their risk of not appearing on their court date, and the threat or danger he could pose to the community if released.
Exceptions to bail under the new law include violent crimes such as first-degree murder, sexual assault, arson, and any other crime involving the use or threat of physical force; criminal harassment and aggravated criminal harassment when the accused poses a threat to the victim if released; mistreatment or assault of a family member when their release poses a danger to that family member; crimes committed with a firearm where the accused poses a threat to a specific person; and cases where the defendant is considered a flight risk.
Durkin said under the cashless bail provision of the SAFE-T Act, violators could be charged but released to commit robbery again.
“We are doing nothing to discourage or deter the people who are destroying the North River (Chicago neighborhood), the businesses on the South Side, the West Side, anywhere else in Chicago who have had to deal with this over the last year- and a half,” Durkin said.
Durkin praised a section of the bill that requires online marketplaces to keep records on sellers, but he said Amendment 4 waters down the bill.
Legislation requires third-party sellers to verify the user’s identity with a bank account number or other information to prevent the online sale of stolen goods. Third-party marketplaces, such as Amazon or eBay, would be required to suspend sellers who knowingly sell items that have been stolen or are believed to have been stolen.
The measure also allows the state attorney general to convene a statewide grand jury to prosecute organized retail crime.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a press release that the legislation will give law enforcement more tools, building on an existing retail organized crime task force through which his office partners with law enforcement to investigate organized retail crime.
“Organized retail crime is committed by sophisticated criminal enterprises that harm our communities in ways that go beyond lost revenue and stolen product,” Raoul said in a press release. “These complex operations rely on saving and reselling stolen goods to fund and perpetuate the cycle of violence through even more dangerous illegal activities like drug and gun trafficking.”
Senator Sue Rezin, R-Morris, raised concerns during a committee hearing that removing language relating to the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970, or RICO, would weaken the bill of law.
But IRMA chairman Rob Karr said the statewide grand jury would be more efficient and give the same powers as the RICO Act, but on a smaller scale.
The measure would allow prosecutors to consolidate charges against an offender in one county, even if a ring of robberies occurs in multiple counties. A statewide grand jury will have the power to investigate, indict and prosecute organized retail theft violations.
“These are people who steal things and monetize them and then use those funds to fund other illicit activities such as drugs, human trafficking,” Karr said in a follow-up interview after the hearing on the topic.
Victims of organized retail thefts – including retail establishments – will be entitled to at least seven days’ notice of any legal proceedings under the bill.
While Senate Amendment 4 was tabled in response to civil liberties and victims’ rights organizations who were concerned that some of the lower-level individuals committing retail crimes may have been coerced into them as victims of human trafficking, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, still opposed to final language.
She recounted how a police officer discouraged her mother from reporting her abusive father. She said the bill sends a message to survivors that retailers are more important than victims of domestic and gender-based violence.
“If you vote yes for this bill, you’re telling me and all the survivors in the state of Illinois to pound some sand,” Cassidy said. “You tell me and everyone in the state of Illinois that you care more about the retailers and businesses in your districts than you care about the victims of violent crime.”
Rep. Kam Buckner, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored HB 1091, said he filed HB 5748 to address concerns raised by Cassidy regarding domestic and gender-based violence. This measure would give other victims the same seven-day notice as provided in the retail organized crime bill.
This bill was introduced on Friday April 8 and has not been considered by either chamber.
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