Eye On Illinois: Voters bystanders again as lawmakers dash toward deadline

Well, that’s that. Lawmakers wrapped up work at their annual spring session by the May 31 deadline and headed for home.

Maybe.

That opening sentence was written on speculation Monday evening in order to make deadline, because our editors and pressrooms work on a much tighter schedule than the General Assembly.

When I wasn’t watching youth baseball over Memorial Day weekend, I was scrolling through Twitter as lawmakers kicked into overdrive, considering so many pieces of legislation and spending plans I could burn through my remaining space simply listing bills and vote totals.

The session ends on the same day every year, yet more often than not January through April pass by with very little actual progress until we bear down on a holiday weekend to tackle all the mandatory work and a few of the extras, all in such a compressed schedule that the people casting votes aren’t always fully aware what they’re considering, which means the people who pay for the privilege of having a state government are almost completely in the dark.

I’d like to be happy about some of the measures advanced over the weekend — banning deceptive interrogation of minors, lead pipe replacement, letting college athletes market themselves, guaranteed recess for K-5 students and more — but the part of my journalist soul that crusades for open government is beyond frustrated with the process that intentionally excludes public participation.

I’d like to critically analyze some of the legislation considered as well — redistricting, Firearm Owner Identification tweaks, Exelon bailouts, ethics reform — but everything happened so fast it’s impossible to discern today whether the flaws were just procedural or also structural.

Just like taxpayers, I’ve got all summer to decide whether the changes will make for a better Illinois. Unfortunately, if we determine they’re for the worse, what’s the recourse?

Consider the 2019 vote to increase the fee for licensing a small trailer from $18 to $118. Under the gun this weekend lawmakers voted to cut the cost down to a much more reasonable $36. But that raises a few questions: Does this create an unworkable deficit in Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure funding? Did we learn any lessons about going too far too fast? Also, anyone going to get a refund?

Ultimately, the weekend bill bonanza underscores a point our lawmakers — to be fair, the Democrats who control both legislative chambers — seem to drive home annually: even when they say they’re working to improve the lives of Illinoisans, the way they go about doing so indicates they don’t especially feel obligated to undergo any meaningful public scrutiny.

Changing the rules is long overdue. Voters’ next real chance is the 2028 constitutional convention referendum. Until then, we remain primarily bystanders.

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