BY LEN WELLS

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any nuttier in Springfield, along comes House Bill 724, introduced by 25th District Representative Curtis J. Travers of Chicago. Rep. Travers, who happens to be an attorney, has introduced a bill that would grant conservator of the peace powers to all members of the Illinois General Assembly.

One element of the proposed legislation would require all state representatives and senators to complete a law enforcement training course. After successful completion of training, members of the legislature would be allowed to “arrest or cause to be arrested, with or without process, all persons who break the peace or are found violating any municipal ordinance or any criminal law of the state.” Additionally, lawmakers would also be able to “commit arrested persons for examination; if necessary, to detain arrested persons in custody overnight or Sunday in any safe place or until they can be brought before the proper court and exercise all other powers as conservators of the peace prescribed by state and corporate authorities.”

Now, I am no attorney (though I once played one in a television commercial), but I have a feeling this proposed legislation is fraught with all sorts of potential problems. First thing first. It would be very interesting to see how many lawmakers are healthy enough to make it through the physical agility portion of any police training program. The amount of wind it takes to stand on the house or senate floor to yammer on about one issue or another is not the same as the wind it takes to run a full mile. I would even go so far as to say many lawmakers are so far out of shape, many of them wouldn’t have enough oomph to put on a sweat suit let alone tie a pair of running shoes. And what about some of our more “senior” members of the state legislature. Forcing them to participate in a law enforcement training program could be seen by some as elder abuse.

Here’s another big question about the bill. If a lawmaker successfully passes the police training course, would they be permitted and or required to carry firearms? In some foreign countries, it’s not all that uncommon for fights to break out between lawmakers when debate becomes overheated. Can you imagine what could happen if you threw in the element of guns?

Here’s another interesting question posed by the proposed law. As mentioned earlier, one of the elements of the proposed law allows the “conservator of the peace to detain arrested persons in custody overnight or Sunday in any safe place or until they can be brought before the proper court.” Can you imagine the following scenario - “Hey honey, I’m home from a hard day of making laws...and by they way, we will be having an extra dinner guest. On the way back from Springfield, I arrested this guy for panhandling outside my favorite liquor store. He will be with us until the courthouse opens in the morning.” 

Understandably, opposition to this proposed legislation is growing. Some lawmakers have brought up the issue of who’s going to pay for the liability insurance. If lawmakers are going to become conservators of the peace, shouldn’t they also be equipped with body cameras, pepper spray, handcuffs, body armor, a night stick, a gun and extra bullets? I’ve seen some lawmakers that look so puny that they would likely fall over if they had to carry anything heavier than a brief case. 

In the unlikely event this bill is enacted into law, there could be a few positives. First of all, we could reduce the number of Illinois State Police troopers by the number of senators and representatives. That would be 59 in the senate and another 118 in the house. This would create an enormous savings to the taxpayers of Illinois, since the starting salary of a trooper is a little over $60,000. And lawmakers – don’t even think about giving yourself a $60,000 per year pay raise just because you would also be considered a conservator of the peace. 

Here’s another positive. Think of all the money taxpayers will save by not having to buy police cruisers, two-way radios, radar guns and uniforms. While I haven’t read all the fine print in House Bill 724, I would think that each lawmaker’s personally owned vehicle would work just fine as a patrol car. As far as communications is concerned, just about everyone I know has a cell phone. 

I am sure Representative Travers is a very fine and well respected lawmaker and is very well admired by his constituents. However, instead of House Bill 724, how about this proposal – lawmakers should not be cops and cops should not be lawmakers.

That thought process follows another of my personal beliefs. I don’t want any preacher telling me how to vote or any politician telling me how to worship. Amen.