Legislative Republicans seek measures allowing voters to recall lawmakers, overturn state law

Voters would need to amend state constitution for measures to take effect

SPRINGFIELD – Republican lawmakers from both chambers of the General Assembly are promoting three legislative proposals to give voters greater authority to amend the state constitution, recall legislative leaders and other lawmakers, and repeal recently-passed state laws.

The “Voter Empowerment Project” includes three amendments to the state constitution, meaning each would need approval from three-fifths of lawmakers before it would head to voters for approval in a statewide election year. The threshold for approval from voters on a constitutional amendment is 60 percent of voters on the specific question or the majority of those voting in the election.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said whether or not the bills get to the floor for full debate in the upcoming legislative session may be dependent on what rules the House adopts under newly seated Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.

“Right now, it’s a wait and see attitude, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we are in a better place because the past was clearly not good for Illinois and the operations of the House were anything but transparent,” Durkin said of the discussion of House rules.

The House is scheduled to return to discuss rules on Wednesday, Feb. 10. A frequent Durkin critique of former Speaker Michael Madigan was that he let bills he did not like languish before the House Rules Committee, meaning they would not gain a hearing at the substantial committee level or a vote on the House floor.

“The biggest impediment that we’ve had to reform or at least opening up state government has been removed from state government,” Durkin said of Madigan. “I’m going to have to say that we still have a process in place where we can still amend the constitution to make changes, but this is an opportunity for the citizens to take greater control over how state governments going to be run”

When it comes to the measures discussed Wednesday, Durkin said, “We just want an up or down vote.”

A spokesperson for Speaker Welch did not respond to a request for comment on the proposals by deadline. Previously, Welch has indicated he is open to reforming House rules, and he and Durkin have spoken several times since Welch was inaugurated, according to both leaders.

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said he has brought up rule changes to Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, as well “in hopes of being able to negotiate a broader and kind of more inclusive process.”

One of the measures the GOP lawmakers want brought to the floor is contained in Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 3 and House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 4. That measure would expand the government officials subject to recall vote to include any executive branch officer, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, the auditor general, members of the General Assembly and local government officials.

It would also decrease the number of signatures needed to recall a governor to 12 percent of the votes cast for governor in the previous election, down from 15 percent. That threshold would apply for speaker, auditor general and Senate president as well. For a lawmaker, it would require 12 percent of votes cast for governor within the lawmaker’s district.

A recall would need approval from 60 percent of voters to oust an elected official, who would then be forbidden from serving in the office they were recalled from for another 10 years.

The bill also eliminates the requirement that the recall effort receive bipartisan support from at least 20 members of the House and 10 members of the Senate.

Another measure, contained in SJRCA 2 and HJRCA 6, would give Illinois citizens an avenue to overturn laws recently passed by the General Assembly.

That would require a petition signed by 5 percent of the total number of voters who voted for governor in the last election, provided it is filed within 90 days of the law being enacted.

The third measure, contained in SJRCA 1 and HJRCA 5, would expand the scope of citizen initiative authority to amend the state constitution. Currently, the constitution allows for amendments via citizen initiative to “structural and procedural subjects contained in Article 4.” The amendment would strike that language.

While McConchie said he’d submitted the documents to Harmon, a spokesperson for Harmon said in an email that questions from a reporter were “the most information we’ve received” on the measures, although they would be taken under review.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.