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4 steps to rid Illinois Statehouse of Madigan’s corrupt legacy

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Now that the 103rd Illinois General Assembly is sworn in, an early order of business will be to establish the rules of the chambers. Those rules need more reform to ensure another Mike Madigan doesn’t gather too much power.

With the 103rd General Assembly sworn in, an early order of business will be to set rules to govern the House and Senate that for the rest of the term can have a significant impact on what bills become law.

Before he resigned amid a corruption scandal, former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan used the Illinois House rules to keep his caucus in line, reward allies and punish dissenters by withholding committee leadership positions that come with generous stipends and bottling up their bills. The most recent House rules made significant progress in reforming Madigan’s rules, but more changes are needed.

Here is how the Illinois House should change the rules to make a cleaner break from the Madigan era:

1) Require majority approval of chair and minority spokesperson positions

Under the House rules, the speaker appoints each committee chairperson, positions that come with a generous stipend of over $11,000. The speaker can grant and withhold these positions to reward loyalty and punish opposition. For example, former state Rep. Scott Drury was denied a committee chairmanship after he did not vote to re-elect Madigan as speaker in 2017.

Committee chair positions should not be used as the speaker’s weapon to influence lawmakers. Committee chair appointments should be approved by a majority vote of the House. House members should eliminate the seniority requirement that members be in their third term to serve as a committee chair.

2) End unnecessary temporary committee substitutes

The speaker can temporarily replace committee members if they are “otherwise unavailable.” This can be done to protect members from controversial votes in their districts or to get more favorable results. For example, WBEZ reported in 2014 the speaker substituted certain Democratic representatives on the House Environment Committee to achieve a unanimous vote in favor of a measure Exelon wanted to pass.

Members should not be switched in and out of committees for political reasons. Temporary replacement should be prohibited unless the member has a conflict with another committee meeting or has an excused absence from session.

3) Operate the House on a set schedule that members can count on 

The rules allow the speaker to change any order of business at any time: there is no requirement for a schedule to be set in advance. This means hundreds of bills can be on the calendar, and only the speaker knows for sure which ones will get a vote that day.

Lawmakers should have an idea of the votes coming up so they can debate and act on the legislation intelligently. The rules should require a schedule set in advance that can only be changed with the approval of a majority of the House.

4) End last-minute “gut and replace” bills. 

The Illinois Constitution requires that all bills be read by title on three separate days before they can be passed, but lawmakers use shell bills to get around this requirement. These bills are designed to be amended later, usually by removing a word in the Illinois code and replacing it with the same word. Once a shell bill is read on two separate days, it can be amended to include substantive changes. Lawmakers will insert whole pieces of unrelated legislation into shell bills after they had already been read into the record three times, technically meeting constitutional requirements.

For example, the controversial SAFE-T Act that is now held up on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court was rushed through at the last minute. The original act began as a 764-page amendment to an unrelated bill and was passed the same day it was filed. That bill had serious flaws needing amending to protect public safety, and even now it faces legal obstacles that could doom cashless bail in Illinois.

The House rules need to be changed so all bills must be read by title on three separate days in their final form. Lawmakers need time to understand what they are voting on – as the spirit of the constitution intended.

By implementing these reforms, lawmakers can make a clean break with the Madigan legacy. Members need time to prepare and comprehend the bills they were elected to pass on behalf of their constituents. The ability to grant or withhold leadership positions should not rest with a single person.




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