Harmon: Burden of proof should be on government, not innocent property owners

ChicagoPolice ArrestSPRINGFIELD – Legislation designed to restore people’s trust in the civil asset forfeiture process in Illinois should be headed to the governor’s desk soon.

The measure, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), was heavily negotiated with police, state’s attorneys and civil rights groups, and it garnered bipartisan support among state lawmakers. The legislation passed unanimously in the Senate May 31, and the House took a final concurrence vote on it Friday.

The legislation (House Bill 303) seeks to end the controversial practice of “policing for profit,” which incentivizes police and prosecutors to seize cash, cars, land and other property from people suspected of – but not necessarily charged with or convicted of – criminal activity under current state law. The property frequently is forfeited and auctioned off, with proceeds going into the government coffers.

“This is a dramatic step forward for Illinois, where government has had a green light to take your property and you have had to prove you deserve to get it back. That galls me,” Harmon said. “We have more work to do to fine tune this law, but going forward the government will have to prove it has the right to take your property – not the other way around.”

Critics of current state law cite numerous problems with it. For example, it’s unclear if probable cause is a requirement for police to seize property in Illinois. Even if an owner is never charged or convicted of a crime, law enforcement agencies are not obligated to return property that was seized during an investigation.

Further, current state law makes it especially difficult for people to reclaim their property through the court system.

Harmon’s measure would require more accountability of law enforcement agencies that seize property while investigating possible crimes and also demand more transparency on behalf of innocent property owners who want to get their belongings back by doing the following:

  • Improve the rights of property owners by placing the burden of proof on the prosecution instead of the property owner and creating an expedited process to have cases adjudicated more quickly.
  • Increase the government’s burden of proof from probable cause to preponderance of the evidence.
  • Require the government to do more to ensure property owners receive notice of forfeiture proceedings and understand the steps they must take to argue for the return of their property.
  • Eliminate the requirement that property owners must pay a “cost bond” equal to 10 percent of the value of the seized property before their case can be heard by a judge.
  • Exempt small sums of cash from forfeiture and provide that mere possession of miniscule amount of drugs no longer will serve as a legal basis for forfeiture.
  • Provide for new data collection regarding property seizures and forfeitures. The information will be reported to the Illinois State Police, and the aggregated data will be posted online.

According to a 2016 report co-authored by the ACLU of Illinois and the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois police agencies collect about $30 million every year from forfeited property.

Harmon noted that Illinois’ asset forfeiture guidelines are written into 25 different laws that authorize police and state’s attorneys to seize property in cases involving everything from drug investigations and money laundering to DUIs and basic traffic stops. The result is a convoluted system that can be difficult to navigate.

“I have read enough first-hand accounts from real people that have been through this process and feel so completely victimized by it that it makes you scratch your head,” Harmon said. “I think the folks involved realize that trust in this system has been completely undermined, and that is why we all agreed to move forward with this reform.

“With this legislation, we struck a balance that ensures both sides – the government and the property owners – can make their claims, be heard quickly and resolve the issue.”

Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) sponsored the measure in the House. It is supported by the ACLU of Illinois, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association and the Illinois Chiefs of Police.

 

Category: News

Senator Don Harmon (D-Oark Park) hosted a town hall with Representative Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park) on Monday, June 19 to answer constituent questions about the budget process.

Harmon discussed details of the balanced budget the Senate passed on May 23, including a breakdown of the plan's spending and cuts.

The presentation Harmon shared can be viewed below.

 

Category: News

SPRINGFIELD – While Gov. Bruce Rauner took to TV news this evening to deflect blame for the state budget stalemate, Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) noted that the Senate passed the governor’s balanced budget and his requested reforms in May – all of which await approval in the House.

“I didn’t hear much from the governor this evening that I haven’t heard before. I think that when all was said and done, this address of his was little more than an opportunity for him to get free, unchallenged time on the evening news all over Illinois,” Harmon said.

“Now that this ‘unity’ address is out of the way, I invite Gov. Rauner to take up the balanced budget and reforms – his balanced budget and reforms – that the Senate passed and sent to the House. This is the appropriate starting point for budget negotiations during the next 10 days and the most efficient way to get us to a resolution.”

Category: News

Harmon05312017High-poverty suburban school districts, shortchanged for decades under Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation education funding formula, could see a significant influx of funding to level the playing field with wealthier suburban districts under a landmark school funding reform measure that passed in both houses of the legislature this week.

“I proudly joined my colleagues in the General Assembly in voting for Senate Bill 1, which acknowledges the urgent need to reform Illinois’ terrible method of funding public schools, while offering property tax relief and ensuring no schools see a loss of funding in the process,” said Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park).

“Combined with passage of a balanced state budget that fully funds public schools, I believe this is the single most-significant statewide anti-poverty measure the legislature will pass this spring. I urge Gov. Rauner to sign it into law as soon as it lands on his desk.”

Senate Bill 1 has strong support from thousands of school administrators, superintendents, principals, educators, taxpayers and advocates for fair school funding. Illinois’ school funding formula has not been updated in more than 20 years and is considered one of the worst in the nation because it relies so heavily on local property wealth.

An analysis of Illinois State Board of Education figures released estimates this week by Funding Illinois’ Future – a coalition that advocates for school funding reform – shows potential funding increases for local school districts under Senate Bill 1, an evidence-based model that accounts for factors such as students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students.

It also provides extra support for the neediest districts in the quest for adequate funding, and it offers property tax relief.

No school district would receive less funding under Senate Bill 1 than they have received under Illinois’ current school funding formula.

The estimated overall gain some area school districts would experience under the Funding Illinois’ Future analysis of SB1 based on FY17 funding levels:

  • Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview District 89 — $3.07 million
  • Berkeley School District 87 — $1.47 million
  • Bellwood School District 88 — $1.14 million
  • Proviso Township High School District 209 — $414,068
  • Addison District 4 — $369,418
  • Elmwood Park District 401 — $332,095
  • River Grove District 85-5 — $287,483
  • Oak Park Elementary District 97 — $182,460
  • DuPage High School District 88 — $125,465

In addition, under Senate Bill 1, high-tax school districts are eligible for property tax relief up to 1 percent of their EAV. Estimated property tax relief for two area school districts:

  • Berkeley School District 87 — $657,853
  • Proviso Township High School District 209 — $6.74 million

To review the Funding Illinois’ Future analysis, visit fundingilfuture.org.

Category: News

Rehabilitated constituent, now a doctoral student, turned down for job because of criminal record

Harmon and Williams 350Quintin Williams has a dynamite resume, one that many employers would shuffle to the top of the pile of applicants.

The fourth-year Loyola University student is earning a doctorate degree in sociology. He teaches as part of his fellowship, and his students – his “kids,” as he calls them – give him overwhelmingly positive evaluations for his work in the classroom. He is 33 years old, married and has a 4-year-old son.

But following a recent interview for a teaching position, he learned he wouldn’t be hired because “they didn’t want their students to be influenced by ‘someone like me,’” he recalled Wednesday.

That’s because Williams is forever bound to a record for crimes he committed as a teenager and in his early 20s – crimes that he acknowledges were wrong and for which he paid his debt to society.

Since then, thanks in large part to his faith and to the countless people who saw potential in him along the way, Williams has dedicated himself to his work, his studies and his family. He’s stayed out of trouble, worked several jobs, earned college degrees and participated in anti-violence efforts.

“It just hurt my feelings,” Williams said of the sting of the words “someone like you” when he was turned down for the teaching job. “I thought, they don’t even know me. Did they read the evaluations my kids wrote or about the impact I had on their lives? I take my job seriously.”

Senator Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, believes it is unfair for every adult who committed crimes as youth to be denied employment, housing and educational opportunities for the rest of their lives. He sponsored legislation that makes it easier for people to have certain arrests sealed by a judge in Illinois, thereby eliminating an unnecessary, unfair, lifetime barrier to those opportunities. The measure passed in the Senate Tuesday and will go to the governor’s desk.

“We’re not letting just anybody seal any criminal record. We’re creating a process by which somebody can go to court and request their records sealed, and a judge will make that determination,” said Harmon, who is Williams’ state senator.

“It goes against the whole idea of paying your debt to society that we have barriers that shackle men and women to a document that forever deprives them of employment, housing and education that enables them take care of themselves and their families.”

The National Employment Law Project estimates, using U.S. Department of Justice statistics, that 42 percent of Illinois adults have a criminal record, whether it’s an arrest or some other brush with the law.

Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago) sponsored the legislation in the House. It is an initiative of The Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois, which includes the Heartland Alliance, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, the Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the FORCE Project (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality).

Williams thanked Harmon and Lilly for being consistent champions of the initiative and shepherding it through the General Assembly. He said he intends to petition a judge to seal his record should the legislation be signed into law by the governor. He just started a new job as a workforce research and policy fellow with the Heartland Alliance, and his career plans include policy and human services work combined with teaching.

“This bill will give me opportunities without facing the stigma of something I did long ago,” Williams said. “And it will help thousands of other people who are way more talented than me and better than me in many ways by giving them opportunities to give back to the world, as well.”

Pictured above: Quintin Williams meets with State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Tuesday, May 30.

Category: News

Contact Me

Email Senator Harmon

Springfield Office:
329 Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
(p) 217.782.8176
(f) 217.558.6013

Oak Park Office:
6941-B W. North Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60302
(p) 708.848.2002
(f) 708.848.2022

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