Bill would give Illinois voters power to change how state is run

Bill would give Illinois voters power to change how state is run

Illinois lawmakers will consider expanding the power for citizens to amend the Illinois Constitution through petitions, including for issues such as term limits and to end gerrymandering.

In 2016, over 560,000 Illinois voters signed a petition to change the state constitution and take responsibility away from state lawmakers for drawing their own legislative district maps.

The “Fair Maps Amendment” effort failed when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled only “structural and procedural” changes may be made to the constitution. All those signatures and support by nearly two-thirds of voters indicated a strong will of the people to end gerrymandering, but the constitutional phrase nullified all that.

A new bill aims to change that.

State Rep. Tim Ozinga, R-Mokena, filed House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 18 to expand potential amendments beyond issues that are “structural and procedural.”

Before the “Fair Maps” amendment effort, in 2014 more than 590,000 voters petitioned for an amendment that would have imposed an eight-year limit on state lawmakers staying in office. Despite term limits being supported by 80% of Illinoisans, it, too, was struck down in court because it was ruled unconstitutional. The same “structural and procedural” phrase was cited.

The Illinois Constitution provides for amendment through citizen-initiated referendums. Those changes are limited to “structural and procedural subjects contained in Article IV,” the article that covers the makeup and powers of the legislature.

Michigan voters in 2022 amended their constitution to establish a combined term limit for years in both chambers of the state legislature. That amendment was spurred by legislation, but if Illinois voters wanted similar reforms they should have the right to petition for them instead of endlessly waiting for lawmakers to act.

Illinois state lawmakers do act when it’s in their interests or helps their special interests.

Twenty-three constitutional amendments since 1970 were put on the ballot by Illinois lawmakers, most recently seeking greater taxation powers and giving inviolate powers to public employee unions. Compare that to just one in 53 years by voter initiative, thanks to the Article IV restriction.

The single citizen-initiated constitutional amendment since the new Illinois Constitution was forged in 1970 reduced the size of the Illinois House of Representatives from 177 to its current 118. It passed in 1980.

So the score is voters 1, state lawmakers 23. When it comes to changing how Illinois is run, the will of the people is at a serious disadvantage.

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