How busy was Springfield this weekend?
My space isn’t nearly adequate to summarize the most significant debate in a hastily-convened lame-duck session: the 611-page amendment to House Bill 163, a massive attempt at criminal justice reform. Capital News Illinois produced multiple days of coverage on that single controversial topic.
There were other essential proposals, such as bills focused on both K-12 schools and higher education as well as major economic equity legislation. The governor suspended $20 million in state tax credits for relocation and expansion projects and wants to save $500 million by blocking businesses taking advantage of federal tax code changes that Congress approved in coronavirus relief packages. Meanwhile House Democrats continued their infighting regarding whether Mike Madigan gets another two years as speaker.
Remember, all this happened over just a few days of the first in-person meetings since late May in a mad dash toward the convening of the next legislative session Wednesday afternoon. We can blame some of this odd scheduling on the pandemic, but two things must be noted:
One: Lawmakers tied their own hands by failing to approve plans to meet remotely before adjourning in May. Two: The General Assembly played these games long before coronavirus.
The 2011 income tax increase. The 2019 Reproductive Healthcare Act. Budgets negotiated privately amongst legislative leaders and released hours before binding votes. Countless other examples point to a General Assembly little bothered by whether it undergoes sufficient public scrutiny.
Consider House Bill 8571, the Economic Equity Act, a well-intentioned proposal that cannot possibly be passed in good conscience because it’s simply too broad to be adequately considered so quickly. Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, introduced the 334-page bill Thursday. House and Senate committees discussed it Sunday. The current session adjourns Wednesday morning. Even if it were the only item on the table that’s not enough time.
Some provisions are easy winners, like investing in the removal of lead water pipes from public water systems. I favor new limits on criminal background checks for employers and landlords. Other issues are more complex, like interest-rate limits that would effectively put small-dollar lenders out of business.
It’s easy to say predatory loans are bad, but what does this law do for underbanked people who truly need small sums on short notice? If you can’t borrow $500 to fix a car to get to work and earn enough for rent, is your best bet to write a few bad checks and hope you can afford the overdraft fees?
There may well be good answers to this and many other questions. What we need is the time to air them all out — in public — before making any lasting changes. This all can wait for Wednesday.
• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.