SPRINGFIELD – Several state lawmakers say they didn’t know a law they passed after the Northern Illinois University shootings isn’t being enforced – and some vow to tighten the statute when legislators return to Springfield early next year.
The law — unanimously passed by both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly — requires nearly 200 higher education institutions statewide to create violence prevention and all-hazard emergency response plans; establish behavior assessment teams to track suspicious activity on campus; and hold annual training.
Officials at three public agencies named in the law insist none of them is responsible for enforcing it.
“We probably will have what’s called a trailer bill or follow-up legislation to clarify who in fact is going to be responsible for the collection and evaluation of this information,” said Sen. Edward Maloney (D-Chicago), who sponsored the original bill and chairs the Senate’s Higher Education Committee.
Maloney said the new bill will identify the agency responsible for receiving and analyzing the plans.
“Perhaps even some of the police chief associations and security people, maybe even Homeland Security people [will] look at the plans as well,” Maloney added.
Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), another co-sponsor of the original legislation, said he, too, plans to
tweak the law.
“I’m surprised that they haven’t brought this to anyone’s attention,” Silverstein said. “I find that a little troubling. I’ll look in to this immediately to find out why they can’t implement this.”
Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano (R-Elmwood Park) also promised to introduce legislation to ensure the law gets enforced: “We’re going to do a little research on it ourselves before we craft the legislation.”
It’s not just Cook County schools that appear to be breaking the law.
Roy Garcia, who served as the state’s first campus security coordinator before leaving the post earlier this fall, told reporters that dozens of colleges and universities across the state aren’t following the law.
The law lacks penalties for the institutions that don’t comply, making it hard to get schools to follow it, said Garcia, who now works as the district director of safety and security at City Colleges of Chicago.
But Sen. John Millner (R-Carol Stream) said the law wasn’t intended to force colleges and universities to follow it.
Millner said when lawmakers crafted the statute, they didn’t think including penalties or incentives for schools were necessary. He said he had hoped colleges and universities would embrace the responsibility on their own – because it’s the law.
“We want compliance, voluntary compliance,” said Millner, who serves on the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. “That’s the best. And then when you get total voluntary compliance, that means everybody’s working at their best to protect their students and their faculty.”
But after learning more than half of the state’s colleges and universities in Illinois “aren’t doing their part” almost three years after the law took effect, Millner said it’s time for legislators to toughen it.
“I think there has to be some strict enforcement with sanctions for the university and reporting about the fact that they refuse to comply to the general public,” said Millner.
Campus security hits home for Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinkley), whose district includes NIU.
Pritchard, one of the original sponsors of the bill, said he opposes including penalties for schools that don’t follow the law.
“I’m not one that wants to have penalties for things that need to be done in society. I don’t think any of us want to live in a regimented society that tells you precisely what you must do every minute of every day.”
Pritchard said it’s college students who should be responsible for holding their schools accountable.
“Students should be concerned about this,” Pritchard said. “Most schools have student senates; why don’t they ask the question?”
But Austin Quick, speaker of NIU’s Student Association, disagrees, saying elected officials also are responsible.
Pritchard “is the state representative,” Quick said.
“It’s also a part of his job to increase the ‘teeth’ in the bill,” he said. “Maybe rewrite the bill or maybe add more to it to make sure it’s enforceable.”
“It sounds to me like this was a warm, fuzzy way for the General Assembly to say, ‘Hey, we wrote this bill, it says you’re supposed to do these things, and if they don’t do, it’s not our fault, we at least did our portion,” Quick said.
“If you’re going to create a law,” he said. “You need to do it where it’s actually enforceable and to actually be able to hold people accountable.”
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A grant funded by The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and awarded by the Chicago Headline Club helped cover the costs of reporting this story. This story is part of a collaboration with the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium, which includes Midwest university journalism professors and students working on news projects in the public interest. The consortium is supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.