SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Survivors of domestic violence will have more protections after several bills were signed into law Friday. Gov. JB Pritzker says Illinois must be a safer and more compassionate state for survivors.
The laws range from providing economic security and safety for survivors to creating new commissions to help them.
Current state law allows survivors to have up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off during any 12-month period. Employers cannot discriminate against survivors in terms of hiring, firing, income, harassment, or retaliation. A new law allows victims of violent crimes and their families to have the same protection.
“We must think of real safety and justice policies that put survivor safety at the forefront without recreating the conditions that caused the harm in the first place. Everyone in Illinois deserves to feel safe,” said Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago).
Colton’s Task Force
Another law creates the Domestic Violence Taskforce Act, otherwise known as Colton’s Task Force. The group will review the processes, operation, and enforcement of domestic violence laws in Illinois to identify loopholes. Members will also recommend new ways to protect victims.
The law honors Colton Miller, an 18-month-old boy killed by his father during a domestic violence incident in 2019. Colton’s mother, Cassandra Tanner-Miller, worked with Rep. David Welter (R-Morris) to pass the legislation and prevent others from dying too soon.
“I think about Colton just about every single day and how we can prevent future fatalities like Colton, an innocent, beautiful baby boy who did nothing to anybody and nothing to deserve this,” Welter said.
Tanner-Miller and Welter spoke with community groups and stakeholders across Illinois to figure out the best way to move forward. The task force will bring together survivors, law enforcement, and legal experts. They hope to look at best practices across the country and present those ideas to the General Assembly.
Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) recognized Tanner-Miller for her consistent drive for a change in the system.
“You have shown that one person can make a difference,” Rezin said. “You have shown us what courage looks like and you are the person who is the voice for everyone who suffers at the hands of domestic abuse.”
Reducing deaths from domestic violence
Another law creates the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission in hopes to reduce deaths from domestic violence. Twenty people will serve on the committee with plans to submit bi-annual reports to state lawmakers. Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago) says this will allow advocates and survivors to come to the table to craft new policies.
“According to data from ICJIA from last year, about 42% of women in Illinois have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. Last year alone, nearly 30,000 people called into the Illinois domestic violence hotline for help,” Villanueva said. “And about 15% of all homicides were connected to domestic violence. These tragedies could have been prevented.”
Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford) explained lawmakers had a working group that learned what a domestic violence review team would look like. West said the commission will be proactive instead of reactive.
“This commission will focus on issues specific to every region and will help survivors and prevent victims across our state,” West said. “By allowing us to examine situations, identify gaps in our system response, implement changes and improve outcomes, we can make our communities safer.”
Protecting and supporting students in need
Pritzker also signed a proposal creating new protections and trauma-informed support for K-12 students who are survivors of sexual abuse, gender-based violence, parents, and expecting parents. It requires all schools to have at least one staff member trained to help students disclosing domestic or sexual violence and gender-based harassment. Schools will also have new procedures to protect student privacy and limit questions to child survivors of trauma to trained professionals.
“It is an important first step towards helping those who have experienced terrible trauma and young parents stay in school and go on to live healthy and productive lives,” said Rep. Anna Moeller (D-Elgin).
The law requires school districts to review policies and procedures in order to revise any that block success for students. That provision of the legislation specifically looks out for expecting parents and victims of domestic or sexual violence. That review process must take place before July 1, 2024 and every two years after.
Helping victims and survivors overcome barriers
House Bill 3484 allows people in divorce proceedings to request the opposing party pay the retainer fee for an attorney. Sponsors say it can help those with limited income receive the best legal counsel.
“I am incredibly proud Illinois has taken another important step in ensuring our survivors of domestic violence are protected,” said Rep. Denyse Stoneback (D-Skokie). “By ensuring both spouses have access to fair and equitable legal representation, this bill will help victims achieve financial independence, and overcome one of the greatest barriers survivors faces when leaving an abusive relationship.”
Another law allows the Illinois Supreme Court to start issuing Hope Cards to those petitioning for plenary orders of protection. Hope Cards help domestic violence survivors show essential information in a short easy-to-read card.
“We must do all we can to protect survivors of domestic violence and provide them with the peace of mind that they are safe,” said Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield). “Part of helping them should be making that protection convenient and easily documented.”
Addressing the state’s DNA backlog
Finally, Senate Bill 920 creates the Illinois Forensic Science Commission. This group will bring together crime victims and stakeholders from the justice system. The Pritzker administration and Illinois State Police recommended lawmakers create the commission to address the state’s backlog of DNA.
“A permanent Illinois Forensic Science Commission will drive improvements in the collection and analysis of forensic science,” said Robin Woolery, Assistant Deputy Director of the ISP Division of Forensic Services. “By taking a strong systems-based approach, Illinois can further address the inefficiencies that contribute to backlogs.”
Sponsors also hope the new group can improve communications and streamline the coordination between stakeholders in the justice system.
“There are still people awaiting answers as the DNA backlog decreases,” said Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago). “A commission is needed to improve the coordination between police and forensic scientists to help further the decrease in the backlog.”
“We must do everything we can to ensure that services are being delivered timely and as professionally as they possibly can,” said Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago). “I’m confident that this bill will help strengthen Illinois’ criminal justice system by improving access for forensic evidence.”