House passes legislative rules handing Madigan iron grip

House passes legislative rules handing Madigan iron grip

No other state in the country grants as much power to its House speaker as Illinois does to Mike Madigan.

Illinoisans deserve to have their voices heard in the General Assembly. But House rules adopted Jan. 24 cede those voices to a single man: House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Members of the Illinois House voted 64-52 to adopt House Resolution 43, which contains the nation’s most oppressive House rules.

All House Republicans voted against the rules resolution. All House Democrats voted “yes,” with three exceptions. State Reps. Cynthia Soto, Chicago, and Rita Mayfield, Waukegan, were absent and did not vote. State Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, voted “no.”

Drury was also the only House Democrat who refused to vote for Madigan for speaker Jan. 12. He voted “present.”

The rules vote will leave many Illinoisans in disbelief. When nearly two-thirds of voters disapprove of the speaker, according to polling from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, how could so many lawmakers give the man ultimate power over the House?

An Illinois Policy Institute report surveying all 50 states revealed Illinois yields more control to its House speaker than anywhere else. Madigan decides which bills receive a public hearing, who chairs committees, who votes in committees and when bills are called before the full House.

Notably, the approved rules establish a dozen new standing committees, each with a chairperson Madigan appoints who will receive a $10,000 stipend. These committees include:

  • Business Incentives for Local Communities
  • Construction Industry & Code Enforcement
  • Cost Benefit Analysis
  • Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, & Information Technology
  • Economic Justice & Equity
  • Elections & Campaign Finance
  • Fire & Emergency Services
  • Government Consolidation & Modernization
  • Government Transparency
  • Insurance: Property & Casualty
  • Mass Transit
  • Tourism, Hospitality & Craft Industries

The new rules also eliminate three standing committees: Small Business Empowerment & Workforce Development, International Trade & Commerce and Juvenile Justice & System Involved Youth. The small businesses committee held a total of three meetings in 2015. The international trade committee did not meet once that year.

Further, the House rules for the 100th General Assembly eliminate five special committees, while creating four new special committees.

The foundation of Madigan’s power rests in the House Rules committee. The speaker’s longtime ally, state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, chairs this committee. It is meant to act as a traffic cop that directs bills to substantive committees for a proper hearing. Instead, Rules is where bills that don’t suit the speaker go to die.

In the 99th General Assembly alone, reforms on term limits, redistricting and constitutionally protected pension benefits were all killed in the Rules Committee. Two amendments limiting the number of years a lawmaker could serve as speaker met their end in the Rules Committee, too.

Discharging a bill from the Rules Committee without the speaker’s blessing is nearly impossible. And Rules Committee meetings are closed to the public. (Perhaps this is a matter to be taken up in the newly formed Government Transparency Committee.)

Currie launched a defense of the rules during debate on House floor Tuesday. “These rules look on their face to be fair and open and transparent,” she said. “And they act in that fashion.”

State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Danville, painted a starkly different picture.

“The rules across the hall in the Senate and the way they are administered – fundamentally different.” he said. “My colleagues who have served in this body who have gone over to the Senate have said ‘Wow, you know I may still be in a super-minority but I can get my bill called. I can have the wonderful constituents over to sit in a hearing and have their voices heard.’ That’s what democracy looks like … you win some you lose some on the vote but there should be a discussion.”

Rank-and-file lawmakers from both sides of the aisle would have been wise to call for rules reform in the 100th General Assembly. Dissent has happened before. Back in 2009, concern about the House rules prompted Democrat state Rep. Elaine Nekritz to vote against the House rules.

“From the research I’ve done, our rules are more leadership-centered than other states,” Nekritz told the Daily Herald. “If he doesn’t like it, nothing happens.”

Those words still hold true. And they will remain so as long as state lawmakers bend to the speaker’s whim.

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