Biss 05042017Defendants would not be able to use a victim’s sexual orientation as an excuse for seeking a reduced murder charge under legislation that passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate Friday.

Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) sponsored Senate Bill 1761, which is commonly known as the “gay panic defense” bill. Under the legislation, panicking about the discovery, knowledge or disclosure of a victim’s sexual orientation cannot qualify as a mitigating factor for murder.

“Although these types of criminal defenses are rare, they still happen from time to time around the country,” Biss said. “As we continue to take steps to ensure equal rights for those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community, the government must send an unmistakable signal that sexual orientation should never be grounds for committing an act of violence.”

Under current state law, first-degree murder may be mitigated to second-degree murder if the defendant acted under sudden or intense passion resulting from serious provocation by a victim. “Serious provocation” is defined as conduct sufficient to excite an intense passion in a reasonable person.

The “gay panic” defense first was used in Illinois in 1972. More recently, the defense made headlines in August 2009 when a Cook County jury acquitted a man charged with first-degree murder after he argued “gay panic” in killing his neighbor. The defendant stabbed the victim 61 times for allegedly making an unwanted sexual advance toward the defendant, who said he felt he had to defend himself.

In 2013, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution urging governments to curtail the availability and effectiveness of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses. In 2014, California became the first state to legislatively ban the use of the “gay panic” defense.

Senate Bill 1761 passed 41-0 Friday. Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ people, commended Biss and the Illinois Senate for its support of the legislation.

“At a time when one-fifth of hate crimes reported to the FBI are committed against LGBTQ people, Senator Biss and the Illinois Senate sent a powerful bipartisan message today that anti-LGBTQ stigma must not carry over to the court room. This bill ensures that LGBTQ people are not blamed for the violence perpetrated against them simply because of who they are,” Johnson said.

“After we first discussed this issue with Senator Biss, he immediately picked up the baton and ran with the bill, working with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build today's bipartisan majority. The lives of LGBTQ Illinoisans will be better because of this legislation."

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Biss05042017Illinoisans’ access to retirement savings and quality health insurance were put in jeopardy this week, all because Congress cares more about Wall Street profits than it does about ordinary people who struggle every day to get by.

“Once again we see decisions coming out of Washington that, when presented with opportunities to side either with big-money interests and Wall Street or with millions of people across the country, Republican representatives are choosing the former,” said Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston).

Biss was reacting to two pieces of news out of Washington, D.C., this week:

  • On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to impede Illinois and other states from launching state-based retirement savings programs for people who work for small businesses that do not offer retirement plans. President Trump reportedly plans to sign it into law. Illinois blazed a trail for other states in 2015 when it established the Secure Choice program, set to go into effect this year. Biss authored the Secure Choice legislation, which enables workers to take advantage of automatic 3 percent payroll deductions to save for retirement. Experts say the country is on the cusp of a retirement crisis because many workers, especially low-wage workers, do not have adequate nest eggs for retirement and therefore will be reliant on taxpayer-supported social safety nets when they leave the work force. States are looking for ways to close savings gap.
  • And Congress now is eyeing a repeal of President Obama’s signature health care reform, the Affordable Care Act, which has enabled more than 1 million previously uninsured Illinoisans to obtain health coverage since 2013. The Congressional replacement would, among other things, cut the Medicaid program for low-income people and allow states to obtain waivers that free insurers from some Affordable Care Act requirements, such as coverage for “essential health benefits,” including maternity care, mental health services and emergency care.

It took years of fighting against special interests in the financial and insurance industries that want fees high to get Secure Choice passed in Illinois in 2014, Biss said. And now a bipartisan board is administering the rollout of the program in Illinois, something that will continue despite the climate in Washington, he added.

“This was a naked effort to side with Wall Street against ordinary people who need help right now,” he said. “And guess what’s happening today? The House of Representatives is furiously working to pass a health care bill that will take health care coverage away from a million people in Illinois and leave people without reasonable options – while, by the way, also resulting in a massive tax cut for the richest people in the country.

“It’s an unconscionable assault on workers, families and seniors in Illinois and across the country.”

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Biss04272017Voters have the right to know as much as possible about the financial conflicts of interest of men and women who want to be president of the United States, and Illinois could become a national leader in requiring candidates to disclose such information.

Senate Bill 982, sponsored by State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), passed 32-19 in the Illinois Senate on Thursday and will go to the Illinois House for consideration. Under the legislation, presidential candidates would have to release five years’ worth of income tax returns before they could appear on the ballot in Illinois.

“This is about transparency and good government,” Biss said. “It’s something we need, and, frankly, it’s something I wish we’d had a year and a half ago.”

Federal law requires presidential candidates to complete financial disclosure forms that include information about income, property, liabilities, investments and certain financial interests of family members, but candidates are not required to release tax returns. Until 2016, major-party candidates for president voluntarily had released their returns since the Ford administration in an effort to appear transparent with voters.

Under Biss’ the legislation, candidates would not appear on the ballot in Illinois if they don’t comply at least five days before certification of the ballot for the general election. It also applies to candidates for vice president.

Biss said voters should be able to look at information about a presidential candidate’s sources of income and investments so they can understand where potential conflicts of interests may lie – a critical consideration for the most powerful elected office in the nation.

“Voters should be able to make up their own minds a candidate based upon their own priorities and their own interests,” Biss said. “I think we can all agree that it is in the public’s best interest to make sure they have all the information they need to make the best possible decision at the polls.”

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The Rauner administration’s sudden move to halt its drive to privatize the jobs of 124 unionized prison nurses shouldn’t offer sense of comfort to those whose jobs are on the line, state Senator Daniel Biss said Thursday.

Biss, an Evanston Democrat, noted that Gov. Bruce Rauner reverted to his anti-union rhetoric earlier this month when he said nobody would miss state workers should they choose to go on strike. Previously the governor had expressed support for state workers and ensuring they continue to be paid during the state budget stalemate.

“The Rauner administration did the right thing by putting the brakes on its plan to outsource these prison nurse jobs, but I remain wary of the governor’s motives, particularly given his inconsistent and recently strident anti-union statements. I wouldn’t blame any of these nurses if they aren’t ready to breathe a sigh of relief just yet.”

Biss voted for legislation that would have stopped the administration’s plan to lay off the nurses currently employed by the state in prisons and privatize their jobs with an out-of-state corporation. The administration said the laid-off nurses would have an opportunity to reapply for their positions with the corporation, presumably at lower salaries.

The legislation passed in both houses of the Legislature and made it to the governor’s desk.

The administration intends to reverse its plan to lay off the nurses and continue contract negotiations with them instead, it was announced this morning.

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