Thursday, April 10, 2014

Two proposed constitutional amendments make it to the ballot

By Jamey Dunn

When voters take their ballots in November, the will be faced with two proposed constitutional amendments. One is intended to protect victims’ rights, while the other would bar discrimination against voters.

Efforts to put a victims’ rights provision onto the state’s Constitution have been underway for years. Different versions of the measure have been approved by both chambers in the past, but failed to make it to the ballot. Sponsor Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said the amendment approved today made it all the way through the General Assembly because supporters struck the proper balance between the rights of defendants, the rights of victims and the power of prosecutors. “It’s been a long haul for the victims in getting to this point. It’s nice that it’s finally coming to fruition,” said Steans.

The amendment will give victims legal standing in the judicial process. They would have the right to be notified about certain steps in the process, including if their personal information has been requested by the defense. The amendment would also require that judges consider the impact on victim’s and their families, along with all other factors, when making decisions about granting bail and the release of a defendant.

The other amendment approved by the Senate today would prohibit denying the right to vote based on a person's race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, sex, sexual orientation, income national origin or religion. Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, who sponsored the measure, said that he went to Florida in 2008 and 2012 to volunteer during the presidential elections. “I watched 80 [-year-old] and 90-year-old people, largely of African American and Hispanic descent, wait nine hours to simply cast their ballot to exercise their right to vote. While in other parts of Florida, people were able to vote right away,” he said. Raoul said his mother, who was 82 at the time, had to wait five hours in line to vote in 2012. He said that his proposal would help protect Illinois voters from facing such a situation.

While the amendment does specifically ban requiring voters to present identification to vote, Raoul said that it is his intent to prohibit such laws if they are geared toward discrimination. “If you cast a yes vote for this, you’re casting a yes vote to discourage voter i.d. laws.” Lebanon Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter said that voter identification laws could be enacted in a way that would prevent fraud without being discriminatory. “We should have a voter i.d. that does not discriminate, that provides the i.d. for them them and brings fairness to all the voters,” says McCarter, who abstained from voting on the proposal. Both amendments received broad bipartisan support in both chambers but will still need approval from voters to become a part of the Constitution.

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