The Illinois Senate on Thursday wrapped up its work for the year, leaving the Capitol after sending Gov. Pat Quinn measures that would create a bobcat hunting season in Illinois and put in place new rules regarding eavesdropping.
The Senate’s departure comes after the House went home a day earlier without voting on a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage, though the Democratic governor says he’ll keep pushing in the hope he can force a vote before Republican Bruce Rauner succeeds him Jan. 12.
Having already passed a proposal Wednesday to raise the state’s $8.25-an-hour minimum wage to $11 by 2019, senators spent the bulk of Thursday debating a measure that would allow bobcats to be hunted in Illinois. Bobcats had been on the state’s list of threatened species but were removed in 1999 as their population grew.
Sponsoring Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, argued that a bobcat hunting season was needed to help control the animal’s growing numbers in Illinois. Under the measure, which passed the House last spring, bobcats could be hunted between Nov. 1 and Feb. 15. Hunters would be limited to one bobcat per year.
Opponents argued the move could undermine the work to restore the bobcat population. Bobcats live throughout Illinois but are more common in forested areas in southern parts of the state.
The Senate also sent Quinn legislation that would establish new regulations on how private conversations could be recorded after the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s eavesdropping law this year because it was too broad.
The proposal would require that all parties consent to being recorded. Law enforcement officials could seek approval from a state’s attorney for an exemption when investigating cases including drug crimes, assault, abduction, murder and gunrunning.
Opponents raised concerns about a provision that would make it a crime for someone to forward an email or other electronic communication that was intended to be private by the sender, saying such a restriction was sure to be challenged in court.
The measure does not address the issue of body cameras for police, though sponsors say they’ll be prepared to tackle that when they return to Springfield in January. The idea of requiring police to wear cameras to record their interactions with the public has seen renewed focus after Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, sparking riots and launching a nationwide outcry about race relations among police and the communities they oversee.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress for a more than $260 million package that would include funding for body cameras for officers. State Sen. Kwame Raoul, who holds the seat that once belonged to Obama, said lawmakers are negotiating rules that would determine when a camera must be rolling and when an officer could turn it off, as well as how that data must be stored and processed.
“We want to leave some discretion, but there should be some minimal protocol by the state,” said Raoul, who noted he wants to get something passed sooner rather than later given the possibility that federal funds to buy cameras are in play.
Meanwhile, the Senate also approved a measure that would give the attorney general the ability to go to court to stop future cases in which a state retirement board approves pension payments to a public official who had been convicted of a crime.
The bill was inspired by disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who did not lose his $4,000-a-month pension despite costing the city tens of millions in legal costs because of police torture and abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. The measure sent to Quinn would not affect Burge’s pension.
Burge was sentenced to 41/2 years in federal prison for his 2010 conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Burge is in home confinement, having moved from a halfway house following time in prison, a federal prison spokesman said.
After his conviction, the police pension board deadlocked 4-4 on a motion to strip Burge of his pension. The key issue before the board was whether Burge’s conviction was related to his police work.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued to challenge the decision, but the state Supreme Court ruled she did not have the standing to take up the matter.