It’s time to reform Madigan’s rules

Joe Tabor

Joe Tabor is a policy analyst with the Illinois Policy Institute.

Joe Tabor
January 23, 2017

It’s time to reform Madigan’s rules

The Illinois House should change its legislative rules to diminish the control they give the House speaker over the legislative process, which far exceeds the power that other states grant their legislative leaders.

On Jan. 24 the Illinois House of Representatives will vote on the rules that govern the House legislative procedures. The Illinois House Rules give Speaker Mike Madigan more power than virtually any other presiding officer in the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers.

Specifically, Madigan has the power to dole out committee chair positions with $10,000 stipends, and he controls who votes in committee, which bills will be called for a vote and when, and whether a bill will even have a vote at all.

When voting on the House Rules, there are four reforms that lawmakers can make to take the power back from the speaker.

  1. Madigan has the power to appoint – and remove – Democratic committee chairs, and thereby bestow and take away the $10,000 stipends that accompany the positions. Under current legislative rules, the Illinois House speaker has sole discretion to give and take away chair positions – and the $10,000 stipends that accompany them – for the 49 legislative committees that preside over issues ranging from agriculture to veterans affairs. This type of power is uncommon in other legislative chambers throughout the country.

The solution: Eliminate the stipends for committee chairs and minority spokespersons. Committee leaders should be elected by secret ballot on the chamber floor, as is done in Nebraska.

  1. Madigan can substitute members of legislative committees – thereby getting the votes he wants while protecting committee members from taking votes that are unpopular in their districts.

The solution: Prohibit the substitution of committee members. Members of committees should be held accountable for their committee votes. If members cannot show up to a committee meeting, they should not get a vote.

  1. Madigan has the sole power to dictate when a bill will be called for a vote. In Illinois, there is no strict schedule for when bills will be called for a vote on a given day, which means that Madigan can call bills at the time of his choosing – and lawmakers are often caught scrambling. The lack of a proper bill calendar makes a mockery of the legislative process and ensures that lawmakers are unprepared, stifling real debate. 

The solution: All bills should be called in order as they are listed on the calendar, unless the rules are suspended by a three-fifths majority of the members of the House. That way lawmakers know exactly when a bill will have a vote, and can cast a vote with full knowledge of the legislation being voted on.

  1. Madigan can kill bills before they have a chance to be heard, as the Rules Committee – chaired by a longtime Madigan ally – determines whether a bill will be vetted or sit in Rules Committee until it dies. Madigan, unlike his counterparts in most other states, has the power to kill bills, even those that have popular support and deserve true floor debate, by virtue of his power to handpick the majority of the Rules Committee members. That committee determines whether a bill will be sent to a substantive committee for deliberation or simply sit in the Rules Committee until it dies.

The solution: The House Rules should require the Rules Committee to assign all bills to a substantive committee after five days, as is done in Kentucky.

If the Illinois House makes these four changes to the House Rules, it will go a long way toward restoring democratic processes in the legislature.

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