Capitol Report from Senator Craig Wilcox

Child Abuse Prevention Group to Hold State Capitol Rally on Third Anniversary of AJ Freund’s Death
This week I will welcome McHenry County’s “Roar for AJ” group to the State Capitol for a rally to bring awareness to the issue of Child Abuse. The rally will take place on Thursday, April 7 in the Capitol rotunda from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

It was three years ago this month that we learned of the horrors of AJ Freund’s life and ultimate death at the hands of his parents. Neighbors, community members and others formed the “Roar for AJ” advocacy group, and continue to bring awareness to problems within the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS), which had multiple contacts with AJ Freund’s household during his short life.

According to event organizer Tracy Kotzman, the group will display an empty pair of children’s shoes for each Illinois child who has died despite involvement by DCFS. The display is open to public and is meant to honor AJ Freund and all children who died as a result of abuse in their homes.

This should be a powerful display, and I’m sure all visitors to the Capitol on April 7 will be moved by this group’s thought-provoking memorial. For additional information about the Roar for AJ Child Abuse Awareness Rally, please contact Jessica at jscaife@sgop.ilga.gov.

Wilcox bill that ensures adequate veterans assistance funds earns unanimous Senate support
On March 31, the Senate unanimously approved legislation I sponsored that clarifies procedures and ensures adequate funds are available for distribution to military veterans through county Veterans Assistance Commissions (VACs).

House Bill 5148 specifically clarifies the relationship between VACs and county boards regarding funding. There are currently six pending lawsuits in Illinois regarding the perceived misinterpretation of the current statutes as they relate to funds appropriated in county budgets for veterans’ assistance. It also gives county VACs sole control over administration and distribution of the funds, removing county board involvement.

HB 5148 makes changes to the Counties Code Act and the Military Veterans Assistance Act, and the need for the bill was brought forward by the Illinois Association of Veterans Assistance Commissions. It previously received unanimous approval in the House of Representatives on March 3.

Last week I also passed legislation that updates state statutes as they relate to vehicle collisions. My House Bill 5496 replaces the words “accident” or “accidents” with the words “crash” or “crashes” to clarify that not all vehicle collisions are accidents. The idea for the legislation was brought forward by the family of an individual who was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Since those who drive drunk are making a choice to get behind the wheel while impaired, the family felt the word accident did not describe the tragic circumstances of the crime in which their loved one was involved. This bill received unanimous support in the House of Representatives on March 1.

Senator Wilcox to Host Mobile DMV Event in Fox Lake
On Tuesday, April 12, I’m bringing the Secretary of State’s Mobile Drivers’ Services team back to the 32nd District for a mobile DMV event in Fox Lake. The 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. event will take place at the Fox Lake Recreation Center, 71 Nippersink Boulevard.

Available services will include:

  • Driver’s License/State I.D. Cards (renewal, replacement, corrections)
  • Free State IDs for seniors age 65+
  • License Plate Renewal Stickers
  • Organ/Tissue Donor Registration
  • Voter Registration
  • Vision Screenings

Seniors age 75+ must visit an established Secretary of State Driver Services facility to renew a driver’s license, and no Real IDs can be obtained at the event. Payments for services must be made by check, credit card, debit card, or money order. No cash will be accepted.

Residents are encouraged to pre-register for this event, and can secure their spot by visiting https://www.ilsenategop.org/sen_wilcox_fox_lake_sos_mobile_unit. Before coming to the event, residents can visit www.cyberdriveillinois.com to learn about identification requirements for specific services. For additional information or help with pre-registration, please contact Paige at Pbuente@sgop.ilga.gov.

PRB down to six members, lacks a quorum to conduct business
Illinois’ Prisoner Review Board (PRB) is comprised of 15 members appointed by the Governor. One of the primary purposes of the PRB is to determine whether or not to release certain individuals from prison. Most of the prisoners who come before the PRB are those who were convicted of very serious, usually violent offenses. It’s an incredibly important position that includes an annual salary of $90,000.

State statutes require that these appointees be vetted by the Senate Executive Appointments Committee (EAC) and approved by a majority vote of the Senate within 60 session days. Unfortunately, since taking office, Gov. Pritzker has repeatedly circumvented the appointment process which has led to many of his appointees serving years without receiving Senate confirmation.

He does this by withdrawing their names just before the 60-day clock expires, and then re-appointing them a day or two later, which resets the 60-day clock. It undermines the intent of the statutes and the importance of having qualified people serving on this influential board.

In recent weeks, Gov. Pritzker’s antics have caught up with him. In mid-March, the SEC rejected the nomination of Jeffrey Mears, while the Governor withdrew another nominee, Max Cerda before he could become the subject of a confirmation hearing. Cerda himself was a convicted double murderer who was released from prison in 1998. Cerda generated further controversy this year as a member of the PRB when he voted in favor or releasing a convicted cop-killer he had served time with. Around the same time, Gov. Pritzker also withdrew the nominations of Arthur Mae Perkins and Joseph Ruggiero just hours before their confirmation hearings were set to begin.

Then, last week, Pritzker appointee Oreal James abruptly resigned rather than face a confirmation hearing, and appointee Eleanor Wilson was rejected by the EAC. In Wilson’s case, she was only able to garner half the required number of votes to be confirmed. Both Oreal James and Eleanor Wilson were initially appointed on April 2, 2019, then withdrawn on March 23, 2021. Pritzker reappointed them both on March 25, 2021.

In the meantime, and without being vetted by the SEC, Pritzker’s nominees were serving, taking votes on whether to release inmates, and drawing nearly six-figure annual salaries. During Pritzker’s time in office, the members of the PRB have been voting to release a much higher percentage of inmates, including several individuals convicted in notorious murder cases. Today the 15-member panel only has six members and lacks the statutory quorum to be able to conduct business.

Backlog Remains for Concealed Carry Applicants
Illinois law requires citizens to obtain a concealed carry license (CCL) to be legally allowed to carry a firearm for protection in public. Unfortunately for potential licensees, they may be in for a long wait. According to testimony from Illinois State Police (ISP) Director Brendan Kelly during a Senate committee hearing last week, in February the average wait time for CCL processing was 115 days. One Senator noted, however, that she has heard from constituents waiting as long as 18 months to receive their license. Kelly said ISP is working to reduce the wait time.

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