Cashless bail a point of contention between state 24th District Senate candidates Lewis, Nowak

The two candidates for Illinois' 24th Senate District differ on a critical component of the SAFE-T Act, with one citing law enforcement opposition and the other saying cashless bail focuses on "risk, not riches."

The main point of contention between Democrat Laurie Nowak and Republican Seth Lewis, currently a state representative in the 45th House District, is the elimination of cash bail as of Jan. 1.

In a Daily Herald forum earlier this month, Lewis said he spoke with state's attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs to help form his opinion. Coming into the General Assembly in the 102nd session, Lewis did not vote on the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, which was passed in the 101st.

"We have 100 out of 102 state's attorneys that are opposed to the cashless bail provisions of the SAFE-T Act. They're not opposed to the SAFE-T Act alone; they're opposed to (the) cashless bail system," said Lewis, 54, of Bartlett.

He said both police chiefs and beat officers in his district oppose the change.

"These are from the people who have taken an oath to serve and protect. And for us to sit here and question their interpretation, what they have to live with when this bill becomes law on Jan. 1, that is not right," Lewis said.

Several state's attorneys have filed lawsuits challenging the SAFE-T Act.

Nowak's main emphasis is on the "equity" part of the act. Supporters say whether a person remains in jail awaiting trial should be based on the charges and the risks of letting someone out, not on whether they can afford to post bail.

"What we need is a system that considers risk, not riches," she said during the Daily Herald forum.

"This is something that can empower the judges," she said of cashless bail. "I definitely agree that if there is a concern from law enforcement, we need to work with them further to address those concerns. It doesn't have to be all or nothing; there's a happy middle ground that focuses on public safety."

Nowak, 35, also of Bartlett, is a graduate student in public policy and public administration at Northern Illinois University. From 2012 to 2014, she served on the DuPage County Board. She was slated by the Democratic Party of DuPage County this summer to run for the Senate.

"When it comes to determining who should be let out on the street while awaiting trial, I think that's something that a judge should decide based on public safety, not based on whether someone can pay their way out, and that was what the intent of this is," Nowak said in a telephone interview.

Lewis, however, said that "the burden of proof that the prosecutors have to achieve in order for someone to be remanded is too high."

Nowak said she supports looking at concerns before the act takes effect.

"Any concerns that have been brought up from district attorneys or from police officers, currently the legislature is working to incorporate and make any adjustments before January. That's something I support doing," she said.

The 24th District includes Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Elk Grove Village, Glen Ellyn, Itasca, Medinah, Roselle, Schaumburg, Warrenville, West Chicago, Wheaton, Winfield and Wood Dale.

Lauren "Laurie" Nowak is a Democrat running for Illinois Senate District 24.
Seth Lewis is a Republican running for Illinois Senate District 24.
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