Victims rights, voting rights among proposed amendments
When voters go to the polls on Nov. 4, they won't just be picking among candidates who have bombarded them with TV ads and mailers for months now. They also will be voting on two possible amendments to the Illinois constitution -- one dealing with victims' rights and the other with voting rights.
Supporters of each say their measures bolster what's already on the books. Detractors say they're unnecessary and, in the case of the victims' rights proposal, possibly detrimental to the judicial process.
Overwhelmingly popular with legislators, the crime victims proposal landed on the ballot after 100 percent of Illinois state senators and 98 percent of state representatives voted in favor of it.
Supporters say victims deserve stronger protections than those already provided by state law. If the amendment is approved, victims would have, among other rights, an opportunity to be heard with regard to a defendant's plea agreement, sentencing or release from custody; consideration by the court of the victim and his/her family when it comes to setting or modifying bail or conditions of release; the right to be informed of developments in the case and be present at hearings; and the right to participate where appropriate.
Victims rights' advocate Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, whose pregnant sister and her husband were murdered in their Wilmette home in 1990, has said the proposed amendment ensures the record includes the "victim's voice and story."
State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a former prosecutor, says not all procedures affording victims a stronger voice in criminal proceedings have been followed.
"There are times when victims are not always apprised of the status of cases as they move through the system," said Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican.
"While those times are few, to make sure victims have an active role, it's important we memorialize our intentions in our constitution," he said.
Opponents, however, say protections for victims currently in place are sufficient. They are concerned that victims and their attorneys may try to second-guess prosecutors, impeding their work.
While Rep. Elaine Nekritz sympathizes with victims, she worries such an amendment might threaten the rights of defendants.
"I have concerns when we raise these issues to the level of a constitutional amendment about the delicate balance between the state's rights and a defendant's rights," said the Northbrook Democrat.
"When we change the balance there will be unintended consequences," Nekritz said, citing concerns about due process.
Also on the November ballot is the proposed right-to-vote amendment aimed at discouraging the General Assembly from passing a voter identification card law or similar measure that discriminates against or affects an individual's right to vote, although the proposal doesn't specifically address needing an ID.
Since 2013, nine states have passed voting restriction measures, most of which require voters have some ID. Opponents argue that such measures disenfranchise lower-income voters who might not have an ID or the money to get one.
The proposed amendment holds that no one shall be denied the right to vote based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, origin, sex, sexual orientation, income or membership in a language minority.
Opponents say those voter protections are already in place.
"Individuals in Illinois always have a right to register to vote," said Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican.
In arguing for the amendment, Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said earlier this year that it sends a message:
If you have earned the right to vote, you will not be prevented from doing so.
Now it's up to voters. Amendments become law if three-fifths of those voting on a measure -- or the majority of people voting in the election -- approve. If passed, the amendments take effect immediately.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.