032013br0266rSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) issued the following statement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act:

"Forty-six years after Loving v. Virginia, which affirmed the marriage rights of interracial couples, the U.S. Supreme Court again struck a blow against laws that discriminate against people based on whom they choose to marry. Today, a majority of justices held that the Defense of Marriage Act — which prohibited same-sex couples, even those who are married in the eyes of the states in which they reside, from accessing federal marriage benefits — is contrary to the Constitution’s equal protection clause. I wholeheartedly applaud this decision. But it does not absolve Illinois lawmakers of responsibility; our work has just begun. Because same-sex couples in this state may enter into civil unions but not marriages, the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage do not apply to them – even after today’s ruling. It is now more critical than ever that the House pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, as the Senate did in February, so the commitments same-sex couples make to each other are recognized as marriages under both state and federal law."

052113br0153rSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) issued the following statement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder to invalidate the formula that determines which jurisdictions were required under the federal Voting Rights Act to obtain preclearance of proposed changes to voting procedures:

"Yesterday’s decision, with which I am extremely disappointed, highlights the ongoing need for strong, state-level voting protections such as those found in Illinois law. I’m proud to live in a progressive state that values full participation by all citizens in the democratic process. Historically, African-Americans in many parts of the country faced discrimination and outright intimidation when they tried to make their voices heard at the polls; today, voting is made more difficult not only for racial minorities but also for senior citizens, students and low-income individuals when procedural hurdles such as ID requirements are put in their path.

Prior to the latest round of legislative and congressional redistricting, I introduced the Illinois Voting Rights Act to protect language and racial minorities from having their electoral influence diluted in the redistricting process. I also worked this year to make voting more accessible through online voter registration, early voting on college campuses, later in-person early voting hours on Sundays and protections for provisional voters.

Congress should take action to restore a strong federal Voting Rights Act that addresses the barriers to minority electoral participation still in existence today. Meanwhile, I believe Illinoisans can be proud of this state’s voting laws. I pledge to continue working to make them stronger and fairer."

032113br0391rSPRINGFIELD – The General Assembly approved legislation sponsored by State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) to expand the practice of videotaping police interrogations, particularly for serious felony offenses.

“Recording a custodial interrogation protects both the suspect being questioned and the officers doing the questioning,” Raoul said. “It allows judge and juries to see for themselves whether suspects confessed or provided information in a coercive situation.”

Senate Bill 1006 allows law enforcement to videotape a custodial interrogation in any criminal proceeding. If the person being questioned is charged with criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated arson, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated carjacking, home invasion or aggravated battery with a firearm, the interrogation must be recorded in order to be admitted as evidence at trial.

“Illinois has a shameful history of forced confessions, including confessions extracted under torture,” Raoul said. “The more videotaped interrogations make it into our courtrooms, the more confident we’ll be that our criminal justice system is working as it should.”

SB 1006 now awaits the governor’s signature.

052213br0367r“Although I led initial negotiations on this bill, I cannot support it in its final version”

SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) issued the following statement on the Senate’s passage of concealed-carry legislation:

"Today the House and Senate passed House Bill 183, moving it to the governor’s desk. Although I led initial negotiations on this bill, I cannot support it in its final version. Illinois’ hand was forced on the issue of concealed-carry by a federal court’s mandate, but this legislation does not include reasonable gun control provisions I have proposed, such as FOID Card verification and the requirement to report a lost or stolen weapon.

However, this bill does include important provisions allowing for municipalities to regulate guns with some types of local gun ordinances, such as Chicago’s necessary ban on assault weapons and a ban on carrying weapons in parks or street festivals. The NRA unsuccessfully tried to strip away these good laws, along with the city’s ability to use zoning to prevent gun sales next to schools.

Upon my personal insistence, these elements of local control, along with tougher penalties on carrying while intoxicated, remain in the final bill, despite the NRA’s objections. Thus, I felt it would be inappropriate for me to cast a “no” vote. But my present vote should not be mistaken as an expression of support for the final bill.

I remain dedicated to finding alternative ways to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of people who should not have them. In fact, immediately after the vote on HB 183, I passed a separate bill – House Bill 1189 – that closes the private sale and transfer loophole by requiring a seller to verify that the buyer’s FOID Card has not been revoked. It also required a gun owner whose firearm is lost and stolen to report the loss to police within 72 hours. The enactment of common sense laws like this one is a pre-requisite for making the streets of Chicago – and all of Illinois – safer for everyone."

051713js0734rSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) issued the following statement on the Springfield visit of three parents of children killed in December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut:

"I was honored to have a personal meeting today with Mark Barden, Nicole Hockley and Francine Wheeler, all of whom lost young children in the Newtown massacre. These brave parents, who have lived the nightmare all mothers and fathers fear, came to Springfield to tell legislators that their children’s lives could have been spared had the shooter not been equipped with high-capacity magazines.

I discussed with them my legislation, Senate Bill 851, which requires private sellers of firearms to verify that the buyer’s FOID Card hasn’t been revoked. This measure also requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm and tightens mental illness reporting requirements so people who are a danger to themselves or others don’t acquire deadly weapons. Mr. Barden, Ms. Hockley and Ms. Wheeler agree with me that just as Connecticut enacted commonsense gun laws in response to Sandy Hook, Illinois desperately needs to take steps now to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring here.

I salute the Sandy Hook parents for telling their story over and over, as difficult as that must be, in the hope that what happened to their children will not happen to ours. I urge my colleagues to join them in supporting commonsense gun laws."


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State Sen. Kwame Raoul new 'it guy' in Springfield

Chicago Tribune

For more than a year after he was appointed to fill then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's seat in the Illinois Senate, Kwame Raoul did all he could to avoid contact with his predecessor.
He would not call Obama for advice unless he absolutely had to. He skipped public appearances where the two might run into each other or, worse, be photographed together.
"I had a sense early on that people, probably including Barack, were concerned about whether I was trying to coattail on his success," Raoul said. "And I was really sensitive about that."
Nearly seven years later, Raoul finds himself the new "it guy" in Springfield. He has led high-profile Democratic pushes to ban the death penalty, reform pensions, overhaul the state's workers' compensation system and redraw legislative boundaries.
Even some Republicans want a piece of him. House Republican Leader Tom Cross appeared with Raoul last month to promote legislation that would require schools to adopt policies regarding concussions and head injuries for athletes.
"People think I am crazy," said Raoul of his workload, which he says sent him to the hospital twice in the last year with stress-related heart arrhythmia. "I don't want to just be down there saying, 'I'm a senator.'"
The 46-year-old son of Haitian immigrants first became interested in politics while an undergrad at DePaul University during the Council Wars in the 1980s. After Mayor Harold Washington's unexpected death, Raoul joined thousands of protesters outside City Hall as aldermen held a tumultuous meeting that eventually saw Eugene Sawyer chosen as mayor.
Raoul, who wanted then-Ald. Timothy Evans as mayor, wound up being hours late for his job as a bill collector so he could pass out "No Deals" signs at the rally.
"I subsequently got fired from a job I wasn't very good at and didn't like, but I remember going home and watching the council proceedings and thinking, 'Wow, we've got to do better than this.'"
Raoul twice ran and lost for alderman against Toni Preckwinkle, who's now the Cook County Board president. She eventually became an ally and backed him for Obama's state Senate seat in 2004 — against Obama's wishes at the time.
Raoul has a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law and a year ago went to work in the Chicago office of Michigan-based Miller Canfield. The firm, which also employs Paul Durbin, son of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is serving as an underwriters' counsel on a $3.5 billion bond sale the state issued in January 2010.
Raoul said he's never made any calls to help the firm secure state business and voted present Wednesday on a bill that would provide tax credits for Continental Tire, which he said the firm represents. The bill passed.
"I try to be careful and make sure the firm isn't doing anything that could get me in trouble," said Raoul, who added that he is learning about municipal financing so he can help towns and cities with bond deals.
Raoul's signature achievement was pushing through a death penalty ban that few expected to pass.
"I was very surprised when he told me he had enough votes," said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. "And that's because it was a very individual, personal type of vote. Those type of bills come along once in a career."
For now, Raoul said he plans to run for his Senate seat next year.
"There's a lot of room out there to serve. I don't want to be one of those people that is trying to hold on to power beyond my time," said Raoul, who added he's not worried if he loses. "For me there's enough stress, there's enough time away from my kids and family."