Incumbent Walker defends SAFE-T Act, while challenger Vrett calls for repeal

Two Arlington Heights candidates for a state House seat have sharp disagreements on Illinois' new criminal justice reform law, with Republican Jack Vrett saying it makes streets more dangerous and Democrat Mark Walker calling those arguments fearmongering.

Like other GOP candidates for state-level office, Vrett has made issues of public safety and crime the cornerstone of his campaign. Vrett, a labor and employment law attorney and former prosecutor running for 53rd District representative, has paid for a billboard along the Jane Addams Tollway that says he'd vote to recall Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx.

He wants a complete repeal of the SAFE-T Act. Approved in February 2021, the bill eliminates cash bail beginning Jan. 1.

"It will make it effectively impossible ... for prosecutors to be able to convince a judge that someone should be detained before trial (in) all but the most extreme of circumstances," Vrett said during a recent interview with a representative of the Daily Herald Editorial Board. "Judges are already supposed to take into account the economic circumstances of an individual defendant, and I certainly believe that we should not be locking people up in jail merely because they cannot afford to pay bail. But that's not what this bill really does. This bill changes the standards to make it almost impossible for a prosecutor to actually make the case that a dangerous criminal shouldn't walk the streets."

Walker, the incumbent who returned to the legislature in 2019 after a previous stint from 2009 to 2011, called characterizations of the SAFE-T Act exaggeration, fearmongering and "unbelievable nonsense." He said crimes like second-degree murder, for instance, remain detainable offenses under the legislation. And, he said, police officers do have the ability to arrest people for trespassing.

"The thing is, in fact, the serious crime rate in Chicago was below what it was 10 years ago. Now, no one wants to hear that. But that's the truth. What's changed is awareness of crime. Some things have gone up. The carjacking have gone up, and how to deal with carjacking is actually covered in this bill by focusing on the gangs that do it," Walker said.

"Most of the bill is not about these scaremongering elements," he continued. "It's about, do we give more money to anti-crime programs? Do we give more money to police? We do in fact give more money to police. Do we do what the police chiefs en masse asked us to do - which we did in the follow-up bill - for covering their time off, training and all kinds of things they asked for to make their jobs easier?"

The newly redrawn 53rd District contains the south side of Arlington Heights, most of Mount Prospect and Rolling Meadows, and some precincts in Des Plaines, Palatine and Schaumburg.

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