URBANA — Thanks to a Champaign County citizens committee, Illinois soon will have a new way of expanding the pool of citizens available for jury duty.
Gov. Pat Quinn last month signed HB 2066 that adds the names of people filing for unemployment insurance to the other lists used to create jury pools. The bill was sponsored in the House by state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and in the Senate by Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign. It cleared both houses without a single "no" vote.
"This legislation will provide our courts with additional names and more importantly more accurate addresses when issuing jury summons, and greater potential for the defense to have a jury of their peers," said Jakobsson.
Presiding Circuit Court Judge Thomas Difanis, a member of the county's citizens advisory committee on jury selection, said the new law should improve the number of available jurors, including members of minority groups.
"Right now we get a disc from the secretary of state and it includes people who have a driver's license, people who have an Illinois ID card, people who are registered to vote and people who have a handicapped certificate," he said. "Now we'll add to that pool people who have filed for unemployment. That gives us a larger group of people to send our questionnaires to because we're afraid we're missing people.
"I know that a lot of people don't return the questionnaires. It's not just minorities. A lot of people don't want to serve on juries. All we're trying to do is increase the pool, increase the minority representation."
Jennifer Putman, another member of the citizens committee and a former county board member, said the proposal was advanced by University of Illinois faculty members Steve Beckett and C.K. "Tina" Gunsalus.
"Steve and Tina came to our committee and they gave us ideas about how we could have better, fresher jury lists," Putman said. "And the committee picked up the ball and ran with it. We ran to Naomi (Jakobsson). And she reminded us to talk to other representatives, that she wasn't the only game in town."
Another idea suggested by the group — increasing the state's $10 per day payment for jury service — got a cooler reception from Jakobsson.
"She told us that it was unlikely we could advance anything that had dollars attached to it," Putman recalled.
She said many people can't afford the loss of money or the time to serve on a jury.
"One of the reasons people give when they appear before the jury commission to explain why they can't accept a summons is that they've got mom or dad relying on them, or little ones at home, or they're overwhelmed and stressed out and they can't afford to leave their family obligations and go sit in a court for 10 dollars a day," Putman said.
"But I think this is a beautiful idea. I have recently been unemployed. It's quite likely that the person drawing unemployment benefits may have some extra time on his or her hands and may be more than happy to report to the courtroom. I think we can be hitting on a group of people who can say yes when they are summoned."
The measure becomes law on Jan. 1, 2012.