EYE ON ILLINOIS: Not much time for impact in lame duck session starting Friday

What should you expect? Not much Friday

Don’t get your hopes up.

That’s my general advice any time lawmakers head to Springfield to meet in person, but it’s especially true for a lame-duck session set to begin Friday afternoon.

For one thing, it’s unclear if the Senate will convene or if it’s only the House going back to work. For another, the window to make progress is narrow, as the new General Assembly is inaugurated Jan. 13. So don’t expect the House alone to fix the broken unemployment system, tackle the governor’s coronavirus response, change the way legislative maps are drawn or undertake the Legislative Black Caucus’ ambitious social agenda.

The flip side is perhaps a sense of relief that there won’t be the time or votes to smash through an income tax increase or otherwise drastically alter the state’s fiscal forecast. Those issues certainly will be on the table once the real work begins in January, but don’t expect a repeat of early 2011, when the outgoing 96th General Assembly rammed through a tax hike before the 97th convened.

What should you expect? Not much Friday, when the only calendar item is a House Executive Committee hearing with 18 bills assigned. Topics include small business innovation, home delivery of liquor and laws governing nursing homes, workplace transparency and higher education for veterans.

Saturday’s agenda includes four committee hearings: Judiciary-Criminal, Higher Education, Health Care Availability and Accessibility and Judiciary-Civil, the latter of which will discuss the La Salle Veterans Home, site of a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 36 residents. As always, schedules are available at ilga.gov.

This isn’t to say these sessions are unimportant, or that the calendars posted when I filed this piece are the only issues that will surface. It’s been more than seven full months since lawmakers last met in person so any sign of action or progress is welcome, and although there isn’t major turnover following the elections there already have been a few legislative retirements and the deck will reshuffle again on the 13th.

The legislation referred to committee deserves its due consideration, and if it’s possible to actually make changes — such as by agreeing to terms for remote sessions should a pandemic flareup wreak new havoc on the legislative schedule — there would be reason for optimism headed into the new year.

Perhaps I’ll have to eat these words and we’ll all sit slack-jawed while our taxes skyrocket. Maybe once House Democrats all get to Springfield Mike Madigan can twist the right number of arms to guarantee himself two more years as Speaker.

Regardless of outcome, this lame duck session represents the end of legislative inertia and, however faintly, a slight nudge in the direction of normal. It is long overdue.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.