Legislative Update: March 27, 2017

Real-time video and audio has taken off recently, allowing anyone with a cell phone to become a content creator. From hosting your own live talkshow to providing an up-close view of breaking events, locally or abroad, the possibilities of this technology to inform and enrich are great. But there’s a dark side to these new capabilities, with the distribution of disturbing or highly inappropriate videos and audios.

Recently, a 12-year-old from Georgia livestreamed her own suicide on social media—and the video was widely distributed by others in the days following the incident. A few days before that incident, a 14-year old from Florida also livestreamed her suicide, from the bathroom of her home, and that video went viral. We have nothing but sympathy for the families of those who take their own lives—the spread of the videos of their children’s suicides is an abuse, possibly repeated thousands of times, of those families and the memories of their children.

The tragic incidents in Georgia and Florida represent only two of many cases where video footage of suicides have been widely distributed to a broad audience. Sadly, today our law enforcement officers have very few tools at their disposal to stop people who further victimize these people by distributing their suicide videos. The viral nature of these videos may also cause other children to consider suicide. We need to address this growing issue immediately.

In an effort to protect vulnerable segments of our population, this year I filed legislation in Springfield that would criminalize the act of publishing, selling, or delivering video or audio that depicts a child or intellectually disabled person committing suicide. Cognizant of constitutional concerns, I drew specifically upon statutes banning the distribution of child pornography in drafting this bill. Protecting these classifications of people is a good starting point, but my eventual goal is to include all people, regardless of age or mental capacity, in the statute.

Suicide is very personal issue for me. Two of my own close high school friends committed suicide while we were in college, and another college friend committed suicide shortly after graduation. While most of us do not speak of the pain and loss caused by these terrible deaths, we all know people and families impacted by suicide.

Specifically, my bill, HB 825, would amend the criminal code to create the offense of Criminal Distribution of a Suicide Depiction. Through this legislation, an individual would be guilty of a crime if he or she knowingly publishes, sells, delivers, or makes an offer to sell or deliver, a video or audio depiction of a child or disabled person committing suicide. A first offense would be classified as a Class A misdemeanor, and those who engage in a second or subsequent offense would be guilty of a Class 4 felony.

Common sense and human decency dictates that, when inappropriate videos are posted for public viewing, the video or audio stream should not be shared, sold, or distributed. However, a basic understanding between right and wrong often falls to the wayside, as violent and inappropriate videos quickly go viral in our new digital world. With the rapidly-increasing use of the Internet for live-streaming of videos, legislators have to ensure that the law keeps up with technology, especially when faced with alarming trends like this one. We must do everything we can to deter lost or troubled people from choosing to take their own life, and putting stiff penalties in place for those who share or sell videos of children who commit suicide is a good start.

Breen Bill to Address Secrecy of Group Home Abuse Records Clears House Committee
This week I advanced legislation that was filed in response to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune that uncovered an alarming number of instances of safety violations at state-funded group homes for adults with significant disabilities.

HB 3515, which cleared the House State Government Administration Committee unanimously on Wednesday, would improve transparency and lift the veil of absolute secrecy that has shielded some of the worst offending facilities from public scrutiny. Last year the Chicago Tribune uncovered more than 1,300 instances of abuse and neglect in a study of taxpayer-funded group homes in Illinois from 2013-2016. Shockingly, 42 of the cases involved client deaths.

In the course of their investigation, the blanket prohibitions within the Freedom of Information Act allowed that law to be used as a shield of the wrong-doing. My bill increases transparency by allowing those abuse records to be accessible without compromising existing protections that provide patient confidentiality. Personal identifiable information would remain protected.

I will be amending the bill slightly to address some concerns expressed by agencies, and hope to bring the bill to the House floor for full consideration in April.

Breen Co-Sponsors Comprehensive Pension Reform Bill
Our state desperately needs pension reform. On Friday I joined House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and a coalition of House Republicans in filing a comprehensive pension reform bill that would provide significant savings for taxpayers and $215 million to the Chicago Public Schools for a one time pension parity payment. HB 4027 would not affect current retirees, but for current and future pension system participants it: 
  • Includes Senate President John Cullerton’s “consideration model” that would require members of TRS, SURS, SERS, GARS, and CTPF to exchange their Tier 1 COLA for the right to have future raises to be counted as pensionable, or keep their COLA and sacrifice future raises as pensionable. 
  • Provides a one-time normal cost payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund of $215.2 million for FY 17. 
  • Closes new member participation in GARS. 
  • Offers Tier 1 TRS, SURS, SERS and GARS employees the option to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan. 
  • Creates a voluntary Tier 3 Hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new Tier 2 employees under TRS, SURS, and certain SERS members who do not participate in Social Security. 
This compromise bill, drawn from prior language agreed to by Democrats and Republicans, will save taxpayers billions of dollars, both immediately and over the long term. The bill also ends pensions for legislators, which is long overdue. I’m proud to join with 25 other legislators to support this common sense measure. As you may recall, immediately after being sworn in to the Illinois House, I rejected a pension for my legislative service. Since that time, I have consistently advocated for sustainable pension reforms that protect both taxpayers and vulnerable retirees. It is estimated the State of Illinois will realize short-term savings of $2.25 billion dollars from the general funds, which represents a substantial step towards closing the deficit gap.

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