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Watch now: Republicans, widow of slain police officer call for hearings on public safety bills

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The widow of late Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim joins Illinois Senate Republicans in urging majority Democrats to take up a series of bills meant to address crime and public safety concerns.

SPRINGFIELD — Standing near a monument for fallen police officers on the Illinois Capitol grounds, the widow of deceased Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim joined Senate Republicans on Wednesday in calling for action on a package of bills that would address a rise in violent crime across the state. 

Oberheim, a Decatur native, was fatally shot May 19 after responding to a domestic disturbance at a Champaign apartment complex. 

"We had big dreams," said Amber Oberheim, who was joined by her four daughters. "Everything that we dreamed up was stolen by a repeat felon with an illegal gun … It is with the utmost respect and compassion that I ask you to not leave your time in Springfield without getting something done to protect the citizens of Illinois. There is a significant sense of urgency for your action. Our lives depend on it."

Amber Oberheim capitol

Amber Oberheim, the widow of Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim, speaks outside the Illinois Capitol Wednesday morning. She spoke in support of a package of Republican-sponsored bills that would address the spike in violent crime across the state.

Lawmakers returned to Springfield on Tuesday for their annual fall veto session, which will continue through next week. 

Senate Republicans unveiled the package of bills a couple of weeks ago, which most notably includes the “Fund the Police Act,” which would appropriate $100 million in grant funds that can be accessed by police departments to hire more officers and purchase equipment.

The package would also stiffen sentencing guidelines for gun crimes and allow counties to opt out of certain provisions of the criminal justice reform law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in January. 

Though action is expected on Congressional redistricting and some other topics, none of the Republican-sponsored public safety bills have been posted for hearings in committee so far in the Democrat-majority legislature. 

"By not even allowing a public debate on these issues, the Democratic majority is making clear that they do not see crime as an issue and are unwilling to even discuss possible solutions," said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie. "This is completely unacceptable."

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, sent a letter to various committee chairs asking for the bills to be posted, but Senate Democrats have offered no commitment that the proposals will be considered.

“Those proposals are under review,” said John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon. 

But even if they do get hearings, it is unlikely that many of the proposals would receive majority support as Democrats, led by the Black Caucus, in recent years have made a concerted effort to kill bills that enhance criminal penalties.  

And in January, most Democratic lawmakers voted for a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, later signed by Pritzker, that phases out cash bail and requires all police to wear body cameras by 2025. 

Since the law was signed, Republicans have attempted to make crime a campaign issue ahead of the 2022 election. This message has been aided by a rise in gun violence in Chicago and several downstate cities this past year.

Murders and shooting victims in Chicago are up from 2020, which was already a record year for violence.

"I'm tired of hearing that we need to be mindful of the criminal," said state Sen. Neil Anderson. "We need to start being mindful of victims and of law enforcement."

However, Democrats would contend that many of the reforms signed into law earlier this year have yet to go into effect, meaning they should not be scapegoated for a rise in crime that's happening across the country. 

Still, for Amber Oberheim, who has become a vocal advocate for law enforcement since her husband's death, the issue is above politics. 

"Bullets are flying on the streets of Illinois and they don't differentiate between political parties," she said. "This issue supersedes all political boundaries, and bullets kill regardless of where you place yourself on the political continuum."



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