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Illinois General Assembly moves to address juvenile sentencing concerns

Harmon on youth sentencingThree 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.

This week, it sent a plan to the governor that Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) negotiated between state’s attorneys, criminal justice reform groups and other stakeholders. It essentially gives judges more discretion when they hand down sentences for minors accused of serious crimes like murder and rape.

“The simple fact is that we needed to bring Illinois’ law in line with the court’s decision,” said Harmon. “It’s also the right thing for us to do, to permit judges to tailor juvenile sentences to fit the crime.”

Read more: Illinois General Assembly moves to address juvenile sentencing concerns

Harmon sponsors legislation for Oak Park residents

LawnChemicalSignEvery year, state Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) has dozens of residents from communities throughout the area come to him with ideas for legislation. This year, two of the measures he introduced on behalf of Oak Park residents cleared the Illinois Senate and are now up for debate in the House of Representatives.

One was inspired by senior citizen homeowners and Ali El Saffar, the Oak Park Township Assessor, who met with the Senator in his Oak Park office. The proposal establishes a floor, or minimum benefit, in the so-called “senior freeze” tax program. The senior freeze is designed to mitigate the impact of rising property taxes on low income seniors living on fixed incomes. However, in recent years and in the face of fluctuating real estate values, it has not worked as intended.

“Oak Park senior citizens came to my office, concerned that their taxes were increasing dramatically and that they were getting little or no savings from the senior freeze,” El Saffar explained. “This conversation gave rise to an idea that all seniors eligible for the freeze should receive some savings from the program. Working with Senator Harmon, we gathered support and put together data demonstrating the impact of our minimum freeze proposal on the tax base. I am pleased that the Illinois Senate has overwhelmingly passed this bill, and hope that the House will soon follow suit.”

The other legislation is meant to benefit Illinois residents who are concerned about pesticides. Many families try to keep their children and pets inside whenever their neighbors treat their lawns. Illinois law requires professional pesticide applicators to post notices on one front corner of their clients’ lawns. Neighbors whose properties meet along back boundaries have no way to know when lawn care services have put down dangerous substances.

Read more: Harmon sponsors legislation for Oak Park residents

Pawnshop public protection plan passes Illinois Senate

Pawnshop CommitteeA proposed law passed by the Illinois Senate could make it easier to recover stolen property and to catch thieves and the pawnshops that help them fence their stolen goods. Senator Don Harmon introduced the plan in response to local residents concerned about pawnshops.

“Many members of the local community in Oak Park, Austin and Galewood are concerned about the number of pawnshops operating in our communities,” Harmon said. “We need to be sure that these shops aren’t profiting from theft to reassure nearby home and business owners.”

Read more: Pawnshop public protection plan passes Illinois Senate

Oak Park resident travels to Capitol to discuss juvenile justice reforms

Harmon and SpivyOne of the key themes at the state Capitol in Springfield this year has been criminal justice reform. Too many people are in jail, Illinois’ prisons are overcrowded, guards are overworked and incarceration costs are a growing drag on the already-precarious state budget.

State Senator Don Harmon is one of the legislators who has been working diligently to address these problems since before they made it into the public eye. This week, he was joined at the Capitol by Sara Spivy a Cook County public defender who was recently elected to the Oak Park-River Forest High School Board.

Spivy testified before the Senate’s bipartisan Committee on Restorative Justice. She believes that restorative justice reform needs to start with our education system.

“The discipline system in our public high schools needs to give students – both accused rule-breakers and victims – a voice. Without discussion, there is no room for growth,” Spivy said. “Reforming the system at the school level may prevent some children from ever becoming criminal defendants. Restorative justice is humane, efficient and, in the end, simple common sense.”

Read more: Oak Park resident travels to Capitol to discuss juvenile justice reforms

Renewable Energy plan clears Illinois Senate Committee

Renewable EnergyA plan sponsored by state Senator Don Harmon and backed by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is moving in the Senate. Dubbed the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, the package is expected to create an average of 32,000 good-paying jobs per year investing in solar power, wind energy and increased energy efficiency.

“We owe it to our children and grandchildren to protect the Earth. That means we have to use energy more efficiently and to start using more renewable energy,” Harmon said. “More immediately, we can create good jobs across the state. Illinois has tremendous potential to grow its solar and wind energy industries, training people for jobs that will be needed far into the foreseeable future.”

Read more: Renewable Energy plan clears Illinois Senate Committee