053115CM0880SPRINGFIELD - Wards of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services who run away or go missing from the system will now have additional protections to help find them and keep them out of the hands of predators. Two pieces of legislation, sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham, were signed into law to help create a system to locate missing wards that are reported as well as enhancing penalties for criminals who exploit those missing wards.

“The protection of our children, regardless of circumstance, is a priority. With the passage and signing of these important pieces of legislation, our most vulnerable children will have better protection and, hopefully, a better life,” said Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat.

Senate Bill 1775, also known as the Safeguard our Children Act, spells out what is required from DCFS once a youth in their custody is reported missing. The legislation states that DCFS must report the missing youth to local law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Illinois State Police must also develop a network to help with locating missing DCFS wards.

From 2011 to 2013, residential DCFS facilities reported 29,425 incidents of missing wards, averaging 27 runaway reports per day. Many residential facilities do not report the runaways to local law enforcement.

“There have been numerous cases of DCFS wards going missing, where, unfortunately, law enforcement was not made aware of the missing child,” Cunningham said. “This new law will help us to find runaway wards as quickly as possible, helping protect them from possible exploitation.”

Also signed into law was Senate Bill 201, which allows sentencing courts to consider a defendant’s knowledge of a prostitution victim’s DCFS status when sentencing. Many wards of the state are extremely susceptible and are in need of extra judicial protections. The legislation specifically states that judges may consider the fact that a criminal knew their victim to be a ward of DCFS and consider that knowledge as an aggravating factor when imposing sentences.

"A series of recent articles reported that human traffickers often specifically target and recruit wards of the state who reside in group homes. Predators see them as especially vulnerable and susceptible to being lured into a life of prostitution," Cunningham said. "The new law would enable judges to enhance the sentences they impose on pimps and traffickers in those cases."

Cunningham has worked closely with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart over the years to help craft good public policy in the criminal justice and corrections field. These two new laws are a direct result of that good working relationship.

“I’m proud to have worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office on this. We will continue to work together to protect our most vulnerable children and make their protection a priority,” Cunningham said.

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CHICAGO – State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-18th Senate) released the following comments after the Illinois House of Representatives passed legislation to curb excessive severance packages for administrators at Illinois public colleges and universities:

“I’m pleased to hear that the Illinois House has agreed to this one important reform to our higher education compensation system. While there are many other necessary reforms that we will discuss as the year proceeds, it is important as we go into the next academic year for our students and leaders to know that we are beginning the process of reforming our higher education compensation system to lower the costs for future leaders.”

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053015CM0949SPRINGFIELD – After the issuance of a special report detailing costly administrative practices at our state’s public universities and community colleges, a bill to address the growing administrative costs and generous executive compensation packages that have helped fuel tuition increases for Illinois students has passed the Illinois Senate.
 
House Bill 3593 is a bi-partisan reform plan for Illinois institutions of higher learning to help put a stop to excessive administrative perks outlined in the May 22 report of the Illinois Senate Higher Education Sub-Committee report on Executive Compensation. The legislation addresses portions of the report, including limiting contract extensions and automatic renewal of contracts. Any contract extensions must also be made during an open board meetings with adequate public notice of the negotiations. Senator Cunningham has stated that additional reforms will be addressed over the summer.
 
“After the release of our Higher Education Sub-Committee report, it was obvious that something had to be done. The contracts dealt with in this legislation have a significant impact on state finances and abuse of the process erodes the trust of the taxpaying public. We have begun the process of reforming these contracts and have more work to do,” Senator Cunningham said. “I’m pleased to have worked with my colleagues on a bi-partisan approach to this issue and look forward to continuing our work over the summer.”
 
The report and legislation come after a series of media reports of detailing questionable contracts and severance packages for administrators at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and at Illinois State University in Normal. According to the report, presidents at public universities in Illinois often receive cash bonuses, country club memberships, and housing and vehicle allowances, this despite enjoying a median salary of nearly $300,000 a year.
 
The report covers public higher education institutions across the state and found similar instances of opaque negotiations, contract extensions approved without discussions and issues dealing with pensions, such as excessive sick-day buyouts. The report goes on to explain possible reforms to limit these practices, including reforms to the Open Meetings Act as well as auditing reforms.

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042115 js 0697Cook County Sheriff Dart testified in favor before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee

SPRINGFIELD — A plan to help ease overcrowding within the Cook County criminal justice system has been approved by the Illinois Senate following testimony from State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The proposal will set up a pilot “rocket docket” for low-level, non-violent offenders.

Senate Bill 202 creates a special court for offenders charged with retail theft, criminal trespass, along with other low-level offenses. The pilot program would allow the sheriff to designate participants in the program based on past legal history.

"There is a serious need for rebalancing our criminal justice system in a manner that keeps violent offenders behind bars, while drug abusers and defendants charged with nuisance crimes are shifted into treatment programs that could help turn their lives around," Cunningham said. "I'm proud to work with Sheriff Dart on this legislation because it will save taxpayer dollars and streamline our overburdened court system."

Recent reports have highlighted issues within the Cook County criminal justice system, including inmates housed for long periods of time for minor offenses. Examples include a 30 year old woman in jail for 135 days for stealing candy and fruit.

The bill now goes before the Illinois House for consideration.

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