Yesterday, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to approve procedural House Rules for how business will be conducted in the chamber during the 102nd General Assembly. The rules determine the ability of elected Representatives to advance legislation and how the public is able to engage in that process. Good government organizations, along with House Republicans, have long decried the House Rules under former Speaker Mike Madigan for the way power was consolidated in the office of the Speaker.
New House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) pledged when he was elected by Democrats to the position that he would embrace recommendations from all members to make the House Rules more open and transparent, and reduce the consolidation of power in the Speaker’s hands. Apart from a limit on how many terms a Representative may serve as Speaker or Minority Leader, State Representative Mike Murphy (R-Springfield) said the few other rule changes amounted to nothing more than minor tweaks, but overwhelming power to control the legislative process is still consolidated in the office the Speaker and majority party.
“My Republican colleagues and I prioritized four requested changes to the House Rules to ensure a more open and transparent legislative process in Illinois,” said Murphy. “First, allow Representatives to call their bills for an up or down vote in committee. Second, provide daily notice to Representatives and the public about what legislation will be voted on in committee or on the floor. Third, institute a one day waiting period before a vote can be taken on floor amendments, concurrence motions and budget bills to allow a public review period. Finally, increase the ability of Representatives to debate legislation on the floor to ensure House members and the public can be more informed. Good government groups have advocated for these types of changes as well, but not one of them was included in the Democrats House Rules.”
Murphy indicated he wasn’t overly surprised that Welch and Democrats ignored these requests and moved forward with passing House Rules that are nearly identical to those under Madigan, but he was shocked by the justification provided by House Democrat Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago). Harris, who sponsored the resolution to adopt the rules, stated in his closing remarks he was happy to use the rules to Democrats’ advantage and prevent public review if it advanced their agenda.
Harris stated, “We heard a lot of examples of how lack of notice, lack of transparency, lack of posting are bad for our process and how those kind of problems should be corrected.” Then he went on to say, “If I can help our side move those bills along, whether it’s LGBT equality, whether it’s immigrant issues, whether it’s the black lives agenda, whether it’s reproductive health, and we use our rules to get those things through and get them passed, ya know, I’m proud to be a part of that.”
In response to this, Murphy said, “I was taken aback to hear the Democrat Majority Leader so openly admit he is fine with a process that cuts out the other side and cuts out the public if it allows the Democrats to force through their agenda. I don’t care what the legislation is or what issue it is addressing, the citizens of Illinois deserve to be part of the process and ensuring time for public input is critically important to protect the rights of the people. No matter how passionately I believe in some of my own legislative proposals, the other side and the public should have a reasonable opportunity to decide for themselves before it is voted on. To not allow this to happen is undemocratic and opposed to the very principles of our Constitution.”
Murphy indicated he sincerely hopes there will be opportunities to amend the House Rules going forward, but is less optimistic after yesterday.