The sponsor of a plan to crack down on gun-related violence in Chicago has tweaked his original proposal in hopes of winning approval in the General Assembly this week.
Rep. Michael Zalewski’s legislation to boost the minimum amount of time gun-toting criminals must spend in prison now includes a provision that would take a lighter-handed approach when it comes to first-time offenders.
“This legislation will increase minimum sentencing for repeat offenders and unlawful gun owners. It strictly addressed the most serious gun crimes and requires serving 85 percent of the imposed sentences,” according to a fact sheet distributed Monday by the Democrat from the suburb of Riverside.
The changes are aimed largely at addressing concerns raised by gun rights advocates who argued that the original version might have meant first-time gun law offenders could face a minimum of four years in prison for what amounts to a mistake.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seeking the tougher sentencing guidelines as a way to reduce shootings on his city’s streets. In addition to four years as a minimum for crimes such as unlawful use of a weapon, repeat offenders would face a minimum of five years behind bars.
It remained unclear Monday whether the changes will address concerns about a surge in the number of prisoners entering the state’s already-overcrowded prison system.
The Illinois Department of Corrections estimated Zalewski’s first version would add 3,860 prisoners to the corrections system, costing more than $700 million in additional operational costs as well as triggering the need for new prisons.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said earlier this month the cost of additional prisoners must be considered when lawmakers consider the plan.
The measure is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee.