What 2017 brings the Illinois General Assembly: Lame duck and the end of Madigan’s supermajority

Heather Weiner

Heather Weiner is formerly the Illinois Policy’s Government Affairs Staff Attorney.

Heather Weiner
December 25, 2016

What 2017 brings the Illinois General Assembly: Lame duck and the end of Madigan’s supermajority

January 2017 will see a new General Assembly, but the lame duck session casts a long shadow over the new legislature.

On Jan. 11, 2017, Illinois’ new state politicians will be inaugurated.

But before then, lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly, including members voted out of office in November 2016, will meet for two more days, known as “lame duck” session, a dangerous period that often sees controversial legislation sneak through the legislature.

Lame duck session allows legislators who have already been voted out of office to vote on bills that they will not be accountable for through the electoral process. Additionally, after Jan. 1, 2017, the House needs 60 votes instead of 71 to pass legislation, so those unaccountable representatives make up a larger portion of the voting block. In the past, this has allowed for bills like the 2011 income tax increase to pass the legislature with lower standards and many—20 percent, in fact—of representatives voting on their way out the door for a tax hike they may not have voted for if they had another election to face in the future.

Fortunately, 87 legislators in the House of Representatives signed a resolution that declared opposition to income tax hikes during lame duck, and 84 voted for a constitutional amendment that would partially close this loophole and require the supermajority needed during the rest of the post-regular session year for tax increases.

While comforting, these measures are no guarantee, and they certainly don’t protect against other controversial non-tax legislation potentially popping up.

Once the 100th General Assembly assumes office on Jan. 11, 2017, the dynamic in Springfield changes – Michael Madigan loses his supermajority in the House and becomes less impervious to the governor’s veto.

This also means that common threats from Madigan’s caucus like constitutional amendments to institute a progressive income tax will likely recede into the background.

But Madigan will still control a strong majority, which will continue to stretch out the battle raging between him and Gov. Bruce Rauner. As both parties dig in their heels on many issues related to the budget, some bipartisan reforms are ripe for passage. Issues like transparency, local government consolidation, criminal justice reform, property tax relief and regulatory reform will present opportunities for change in the midst of broader stalemates.

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