Senate Week in Review: March 13-17

Springfield, IL – The controversial “SAFE-T Act” is making headlines again as the Illinois Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments this week over the lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the no-cash bail provision. Prosecutors, representing several Illinois State’s Attorneys, presented their case, which focuses largely on whether legislators have the authority to issue such a critical pretrial mandate to the judicial branch.

Another high-profile case also got underway this week in federal court, as arguments began in the case against four individuals with ties to ComEd, who stand accused of bribing and facilitating bribes to former Speaker of the House Mike Madigan.

Lastly, as March Madness begins, Illinois and the entire United States are expected to see a surge in revenue generated by sports betting, breaking the current record by several billion dollars.

Illinois Supreme Court Hears No-Cash Bail Arguments

On Tuesday, the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments in the case challenging the “SAFE-T Act,” in which prosecutors argue the no-cash bail provision is unconstitutional. In late December, just days before the provision was set to take effect, a judge in Kankakee County ruled in favor of more than 60 State’s Attorneys and declared the controversial provision violated the Illinois Constitution. An appeal was promptly filed by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

During this week’s hearing, the lawyers’ arguments centered largely on whether legislators have the authority to make such a large change to pretrial procedures. Attorneys representing the State’s Attorneys argued the law is an overreach by the legislative branch. Additionally, the case was made that the Constitution requires judges to have the ability to set monetary bail.

While the hearing of the case was expedited, the Illinois Supreme Court Justices gave no timeline as to when they will issue a ruling.

“ComEd Four” Trial Begins

On Wednesday in federal court, opening statements were heard in a high-profile trial in the case against four individuals with ties to ComEd. Prosecutors told jurors that the four ex-ComEd officials participated in a scheme to bribe former Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan in exchange for political favors. The four accused are longtime allies of Madigan, and charges range from bribery to falsifying records. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

According to the prosecutors, ComEd steered upwards of $1.3 million in payments, contracts, and perks to “subcontractors” who did little to no work and were actually Madigan’s close allies. In a separate lawsuit scheduled for 2024, Madigan faces more than 20 counts of corruption-related charges.

Senate Republicans continue to advocate for ethics reforms and seek to end the decades-long corruption and abuse cloud that hangs over the State Capitol. 

March Madness Begins with Expected Record-Breaking Betting

As March Madness begins, the American Gaming Association is predicting a large increase in betting revenue generated by the tournament. The Association is anticipating that 68 million Americans, or one in four adults, are expected to wager a record $15.5 billion. An increase from last year’s $3 billion, this projection includes everything from friendly wagers to workplace brackets to illegal betting through bookies.

As one of the leading sports betting states, Illinois could account for a significant portion of the total. Last year, Illinois residents accounted for a record $278.4 million in legal bets during the March basketball tournament, surging back after the previous two years of the pandemic. In pre-pandemic 2019, sports betting was only legal in a few states, but now it is legal in 36 states, another factor that points to a large spike in betting revenue.

In January, Illinois set a record of $1.07 billion in sports betting revenue, which generated approximately $14.4 million in tax revenue for the state. It is predicted the State will break that record again in February with the betting generated by the Super Bowl.

Two Illinois teams made the NCAA tournament this year. The Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois lost in the first round of the tournament on Thursday while the Wildcats of Northwestern University advanced to the next round to be played on Saturday.

Dave Syverson

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