September 21, 2021

Guest column: Once again, much more was said than done by Illinois lawmakers

The spring session of the Illinois General Assembly is now history. At the beginning of the session, there was renewed hope that critical aspects of Illinois government might change. After all, for the first time in decades, the House had a new speaker.

After nearly 40 years as House speaker, interrupted by a short two-year stint by Lee Daniels, Michael Madigan resigned as speaker and soon thereafter as a House member. Madigan is at the center of a highly publicized scandal involving Commonwealth Edison, as were several of Madigan’s lobbying cronies. Recently, Madigan’s former chief of staff, Tim Mapes, was indicted by a federal grand jury. Mapes has pleaded innocent to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The news of Madigan’s departure as speaker was barely believable at first. Mike Madigan stepping aside? When the reality of his departure became real, there was optimism and anticipation that substantive change might take place to the House rules which had basically created a legislative process allowing for one-person control. Newly elected House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch made statements hinting at the possibility of changes to the House rules that would allow for a more bipartisan, democratic approach.

Also facing the General Assembly this spring was the issue of redistricting. Maybe this once-every-decade practice of drawing legislative and judicial maps would change? Perhaps some type of fair, independent process could be established free of political pressures by either party? There was widespread support for creating an Independent Map Commission that would be responsible for drawing fair legislative boundaries free from political gerrymandering. As a candidate for governor in 2018, JB Pritzker was quoted as saying, “We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, and I have supported this effort for years.” Back in 2014, Pritzker even donated $50,000 to a fair maps initiative. New House Speaker Welch publicly stated support for fair maps, although he did mention that his interpretation of fair might be different than someone else’s.

Another topic of interest this spring was ethics reform. After the past year and a half, during which a couple of former House members were indicted on various charges related to payments received from lobbyists, there was renewed optimism that a strong ethics bill might pass. The concern over legislators retiring from the General Assembly and then becoming lobbyists the next day was possibly going to be addressed with a strong revolving door law.

While a minor ethics bill passed this spring, the governor described the legislation this way: “It isn’t perfect, and more work definitely remains. …” The changes have been described as baby steps. Most babies have longer strides. Let’ see if the governor uses his amendatory veto power to make it tougher. It did pass 113-5, which means it has some improvements included, but it is a far cry from the type of reforms that were discussed and are needed to renew some trust in state government.

What about budget transparency? With a new speaker and relatively new Senate president, hopes were high that a more transparent budget process would take place. Unfortunately, we got more of the same sneaky process. The practice of adding budget language consisting of thousands of pages to an empty shell bill just hours before a vote on the budget is not transparency. Neither lawmakers nor the public had an opportunity to review, discuss and question the way our tax dollars were being spent.In fact, the implementation date on one of the budget bills was incorrect and further legislative action had to be taken to fix that error.In the future, how about at least a 72-hour sunshine period prior to any final version being voted on?

Regretfully, the reality is that after all was said and done this legislative session, much more was said than done.

Roger Eddy is a retired member of the Illinois House, serving the 109th Legislative District from 2003 to 2012 and serving on the Special Investigative Committee on the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich. He recently authored a book highlighting the impeachment of Blagojevich. The book, “A Front Row Seat,” is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While currently a member of the Illinois State Board of Education, all comments are as an individual and not as a member of the State Board of Education.