Local taxpayers affected by unfunded state mandates

It’s challenging for a local taxing body to balance their budget without additional unfunded state mandates being imposed on them from Springfield, whether it’s the Illinois Supreme Court in the first example below or the general assembly in the second example, which hasn’t balanced a budget in over a decade.

Effective November 1, 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court amended its Rule 941concerning the “Use of Restraints on a Minor in all juvenile delinquency proceedings arising under the Juvenile Court Act” of 1987.

This ruling mandates that state counties, including Winnebago County, shall not use instruments of restraint, including handcuffs, leg shackles, belly chains, etc. to prevent physical harm to the minor or another person unless the court finds, after a hearing, that use of restraints are necessary for one of the following reasons:

The minor has a history of disruptive behavior that has placed others in potentially harmful situations or presents a substantial risk of inflicting physical harm on himself or herself or others as evidenced by recent behavior;

Or there is a well-founded belief that the minor presents a substantial risk of flight from the courtroom;

And, there are no less restrictive alternatives to restraints to prevent flight or physical harm– such as court personnel, enforcement officers or bailiffs, which would be provided at taxpayer’s expense, of course.

Regardless, the court must provide the minor’s attorney, usually provided at taxpayer’s expense through the public defender’s office, an opportunity to be heard before the court orders the use of restraints.

The Illinois Supreme Court then astonishingly ruled that their mandate was not intended to limit the local court’s inherent authority to control “its” courtroom and ensure the integrity or proceedings are maintained in the event of disruptive behavior.

It is estimated that this rule will cost the taxpayers of Winnebago County $205,140 annually to hire four detention officers to comply with the new Supreme Court Rules.

Without additional reductions in court services next year, the funds may not be available from our rapidly depleting Detention Home Fund and other revenue sources used to meet this mandate.

Also, effective January 1, 2017, Public Act 099-0882 passed by the General Assembly will require that all counties that have a public defender office, such as Winnebago County, in cases subject to Section 5-170 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 involving a minor who was under the age of 15 at the time of the commission of the offense, the minor must be represented by counsel throughout the entire custodial interrogation of the minor, even if those minors haven’t been charged with a crime.

Cases subject to Section 5-170 of the Juvenile Court Act, some twelve main offenses, are crimes involving Murder/Homicide and sex offenses – all violent crimes.

The public defender’s office has estimated that there will be about 10 to 12 homicide investigations per year and 20 to 30 sex offense crimes annually, which will require custodial interrogations of minors under 15.

The public defender stated it is important to consider that most murder investigations will involve multiple minors in this category being interrogated for any single investigation, while the sex offenses would have one or a few minors who are held in custody for interrogations.

This will require the public defender’s office to hire attorneys to cover as many juveniles as committed the offense to provide representation during any interrogation. If four defendants participated in the crime or were witnesses, there must be four public defenders available to cover their interrogation because the juveniles may have personal interests that conflict with other juveniles being interrogated in the same case.

The public defender’s office has stated it is their belief that any solution to this unfunded legislation will require additional staff, probably at least two attorneys at first, with dedicated existing staff supplementing new attorneys to cover juvenile custodial interrogations.

This unfunded legislation will cost Winnebago County taxpayers $100,000 to $200,000 per year for sufficient personnel or for overtime for existing personnel to cover this new unfunded mandate, which could require multiple attorneys to be made available at all hours of the day.

With juvenile crime rapidly increasing at an alarming rate, the costs due to just these two unfunded mandates will be substantial for future local taxpayers throughout the state!