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New law allows Cook County drug field tests

New law allows Cook County drug field testsIn 2010, Cook County released more than 5,000 defendants accused of drug-related crimes after determining there was no probable cause for their arrests. Many had been sitting in Cook County jail for more than 25 days awaiting their probable cause hearing. Each day these men and women sat in jail cost county taxpayers $143 – or more than $3,000 for a 25-day stay. It cost them and their families even more from lost time at work and the anguish of having a loved one in jail. Many of these offenders came from low-income families that could not afford to post bail.

Why? Because law enforcement agencies in Cook County send recovered substances to the State Crime Lab to determine whether they are in fact drugs, which takes weeks. Police in every other county use a simple field drug test that costs little more than $1, which could have dramatically reduced the cost to Cook County and the suffering of these people and their families.

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Senate votes to override Rauner veto of collective bargaining measure

Harmon speaks in the Senate3Concerned by the Rauner administration’s failure to reach a contract agreement with Illinois’ largest government-employee union, the Illinois Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of legislation that would mandate arbitration and prohibit strikes and lockouts if an agreement can’t be reached.

“The state needs a contract with its employees,” said Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the measure’s sponsor. “Honestly, it doesn’t seem like the governor’s office is making much progress. Our last contract expired more than a month ago and the two sides still seem miles apart.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 1229, establishes a process in which the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) may be required to submit to binding interest arbitration if the two sides can’t reach an agreement. It also specifically prohibits strikes and lockouts once the arbitration process begins. A similar model is already successfully used for decades during contract negotiations for the state police and prison guards, as well as local police and firefighters.

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New law limits pawnshops

PawnshopSPRINGFIELD – A new law sponsored by state Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) will help keep communities and consumers safer by making it more difficult to sell items at pawnshops, if those items are missing serial numbers. The law also sets statewide minimum standards for how long pawnshops must hold onto items before they can sell or transfer them.

“A missing serial number – particularly on something dangerous like a gun or expensive like a phone or computer – is a real problem,” Harmon said. “I know most pawnshops don’t want to support criminal activity, but if you resell a major item that’s missing its serial number, you very well might be.”

The law explicitly prohibits pawnshops from accepting items where the serial number has been intentionally removed or altered. They will be able to accept items where a serial number has worn off because of normal use, but required to hold them for at least 15 days before sale.

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New law ends automatic life sentences for minors

HarmonSpeaks on the Senate floorThree years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that sentencing a minor to a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole was unconstitutional. Since then, the General Assembly has been working to update Illinois’ juvenile sentencing laws.

Today, a plan that Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) negotiated among state’s attorneys, criminal justice reform groups and other stakeholders became law. It essentially gives judges more discretion when they hand down sentences for minors accused of serious crimes like murder and rape.

“We need to give judges the authority to tailor juvenile sentences to fit the crime,” Harmon said. “There need to be serious consequences when young people commit serious crimes, but in many cases, we also want to give them a second chance.”

The proposed law allows judges to waive aggravating factors relating to possession and use of a gun. It doesn’t preclude a young person being sentenced to life without parole, but does ensure that life without parole is never the mandatory sentence.

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New law streamlines international adoptions, cuts bureaucracy

Harmon talking to a reporterFamilies who adopt children from foreign countries face many challenges. They are subject to intense scrutiny by the federal government to determine if they are fit parents. They face substantial costs for travel and adoption fees. Some may have turned to adoption because of stressful fertility issues.

In Illinois, they have faced another challenge: A state bureaucrat who must approve the adoption, even though they already have federal authorization.

A new law will get rid of this unnecessary, wasteful bureaucracy.

It also streamlines Illinois’ process for officially recording foreign adoptions, making adopted children U.S. citizens and giving parents the right to change their children’s names. To gain these benefits, children must be re-adopted in the U.S., and domestic adoption laws are governed by the states rather than the federal government.

“This law saves taxpayer money and makes it easier for children to find good homes,” said state Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the law’s sponsor. “The adoption process is stressful enough without unneeded big-government bureaucracy.”

Read more: New law streamlines international adoptions, cuts bureaucracy