Democrats Push Aggressive Agenda during Final Hours of 101st General Assembly
In their mad rush to send several bills to the Governor before the end of the 101st General Assembly, House and Senate Democrats filed 6,386 pages of legislation during the five-day lame duck session. Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie said it best: “That’s like reading The Bible, Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the entire Harry Potter series in five days. Not. Physically. Possible.”
In the House, we held marathon session days lasting until 2:30 AM on Monday night and until 4:15 AM on Tuesday night. Most of the legislation carried hefty price tags and heaped new, costly unfunded mandates on schools, businesses and local units of government. One of the Democrats’ bills had an estimated cost to the state of between $900 million and over $2 billion, yet Democrats didn’t flinch. What’s another $2 billion when the state is already facing a current year budget deficit of over $4 billion? In all, 23 bills were sent to the Governor for his signature or veto.
Several of the bills were tied to a package of reform bills that seek to address perceived systemic racism in Illinois. The bills fell into four categories: criminal justice reform (HB 3653); education and workforce development (HB 2170); economic access, equity and opportunity (SB 1480, SB 1608, SB 1792, and SB 1980); and healthcare and human services. Legislation related to health care and human services did not advance to the Governor during the lame duck session, but is expected to be refiled in the 102nd GA.
In addition to the other measures from the legislative black caucus, some of the other bills passed during the lame duck session include:
- SB 54: Allows bars and restaurants to sell “alcohol to go” through third party vendors like GrubHub
- HB 2451: Increases retirement benefits for Chicago firefighters by removing a provision that prevented some firefighters from receiving an automatic annual 3% cost of living increase.
- HB 1559: Expands the Chicago Teachers’ Union’s ability to go on strike.
- HB 3360: Increases the amount of damages an individual can collect from personal injury or wrongful death cases by allowing for the accrual of interest earlier in the legal process.
- HB 2488: Addresses opioid abuse by creating a nationwide database where prescribing physicians can track prescriptions for individual people.
Democrats Reject Proper Procedure as they Ram Through Criminal Justice Reforms
The most controversial of the reform bills we saw during the lame duck session was a complete overhaul of Illinois’ criminal justice system. With several amendments added throughout the five-day session, the final bill, which was more than 760 pages long, dropped in the Senate at about 4:00 AM on Wednesday, with the vote taking place just an hour later. The bill was then sent to the House, where Democrats cut off debate so the House vote could take place prior to the Constitutionally-mandated swearing in of the 102nd General Assembly at noon on that same day. Early versions of the bill were extreme, and it was only after Republicans and stakeholders shined a light on glaring oversteps that amendments were made and some (but not all) dangerous language was removed.
Among other things, HB 3653 in its final form:
- Mandates the use of body cameras on all officers in all police departments by 2025 with no state funding to cover the costs;
- Ends cash bail for all criminal offenses;
- Implements new rules for use of force;
- Eliminates law enforcement entities’ ability to collectively bargain;
- Eliminates the requirement that complaints against police officers include a sworn affidavit and allows anonymous complaints;
- Provides for decertification of bad cops based on loosened complaint rules;
- Increases rights for detainees;
- Decreases rights for victims.
Please know that I am not opposed to criminal justice reform and police accountability. But in the week leading up to the vote on this bill, my office received hundreds of emails and phone calls from people urging me to vote against it. These calls came from members of law enforcement and their families, and from victims of crimes and their families. I can say with confidence that the people I represent in DuPage County felt HB 3653 was not the right answer for problems that exist within our criminal justice system. I voted NO on the bill.
This bill deserved a long and thorough vetting with all stakeholders at the table. Those most affected by the provisions of the legislation were not consulted and Republicans were sidelined during the crafting of the bill. And when Democrats abruptly cut off the bill debate after just a few speakers, I was one of many House Republicans who had their constituents’ voices silenced. It sickened me that for a bill with such far-reaching consequences, the majority party summarily dismissed our legitimate concerns and refused to allow our comments to become a part of the official record. Democrats abused the process and abused the public trust. Large populations of Illinois residents should not be disenfranchised through slick political maneuvers that silence their representative voices. And lame duck legislators facing zero accountability to voters had no business voting on a bill of this magnitude. It was a bad process from beginning to end.
Nonetheless, the vote, which was not without drama of its own, ended with 60 Democrats (the minimum number of votes needed) voting in favor of it. The vote itself represented a low point for the House of Representatives. When Democrats saw they didn’t have the votes for the bill to pass, they began yelling at each other and used intimidation to get to 60 votes. Sadly, all of this happed just minutes before adjournment, and while new Representatives getting ready to take office were on the sidelines watching.
Since the vote, I have been asked to point to specific provisions that I objected to. The elimination of cash bail concerns me. I believe the elimination of cash bail could very well lead to criminals who could have otherwise been offered a cash bail to be denied bail altogether. If the only options are to remain locked up or to walk free without posting monetary bond, I believe judges could err on the side of caution. I also believe that more consideration should have been given to victims of crimes. If the accused are released pending trial, I believe we will see an increase in repeat victimization. Thirdly, I am fundamentally opposed to unfunded mandates, and if it is believed that all police officers should be equipped with body cameras the state should provide funding for it.
Republicans Derail Pritzker’s Backdoor Tax Increase on Illinois Small Businesses
Republicans had a significant victory last week, when we stopped a $1 billion tax increase on struggling businesses. House Republicans fought back against an effort to “decouple” Illinois’ tax law from operating loss carryback provisions that were provided for in the federal CARES Act. The Governor proposed this decoupling by putting it into a bill that Republicans supported, hoping, I’m sure, that we’d let it through so we could get the other things that we wanted. Instead, we waged a vigorous debate and the measure fell 10 votes short of passage (in the end several Democrats also voted NO). This attempt to retroactively increase taxes under the cover of darkness (3 A.M.) upon the very businesses that need help the most was one of the most cynical things I’ve ever seen in Springfield.
Lame Duck Legislation Action Overshadowed by Ousting of Speaker of the House Mike Madigan
The legislation sent to the Governor during the lame duck session was substantial. But the entire week’s events were overshadowed by the ousting of Mike Madigan as Speaker of the House.
Mike Madigan served as Speaker of the House every year except for two since 1983. His popularity waned in recent years though, as more and more of his top allies became ensnared in a massive federal investigation into political corruption in Illinois. In a series of indictments, he was known as “Public Official A.” In fact, in federal documents Public Official A was named nearly 100 times as a key player in a bribery scheme involving Commonwealth Edison. It’s important to note that as of this writing, Madigan has not been charged with any crimes and he has continually proclaimed his innocence. He’s also faced problems within his caucus in recent years when sexual harassment claims from within his office and his campaign organization were made public.
A total of 21 House Democrats stood together and essentially ended Speaker Madigan’s reign in the House of Representatives. They refused to vote for him to retain the Speakership during a straw poll during the early days of the lame duck session, which put him short of the 60 votes he needed. Madigan ultimately withdrew his name from consideration and Hillside Democrat Emanuel “Chris” Welch emerged as the frontrunner and eventual winner. During the official vote for House Speaker, almost every House Democrat voted for Welch.
The departure of Mike Madigan from the Speaker’s chair represents the end of an era in Illinois. Without the Speaker’s gavel and the power that comes with it, it’s probable that he’ll resign from the House of Representatives quite soon. His reign was immense. He held the gavel during the terms of nine Illinois Governors, nine Chicago mayors and eight U.S. Presidents. He also led the chamber while ushering in dozens of monumental pieces of legislation supported by Democrats, including the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois, the legalization of same sex marriage, expanding abortion rights, the legalization of medicinal and recreational cannabis, and 13 different minimum wage increases. He also oversaw the massive expansion of pension benefits which were never paid for and which resulted in over $130 billion in debt which we’ll never be able to repay.
The first major task for Speaker Welch will be the approval of House Rules for the 102nd General Assembly. We will soon find out if our new Speaker will truly turn the page or if he will continue ruling from the Book of Madigan. Nothing changes in Illinois until the House Rules change. I am hopeful that Speaker Welch will do things differently.
House to Return in Early February for 102nd General Assembly
After Inauguration Day on Wednesday, the House convened for a short while on Thursday before adjourning until February 2, or until Speaker Welch calls us back (there is talk of us returning to take up a few bills, including the decoupling bill discussed above, before the end of January). We will spend the next few weeks back in our home districts, tending to the needs of our constituents. Click here to view the House 2021 Session calendar.
In the coming weeks I will be filing my bills for this new session year. I will continue to focus on taxpayer protections, government accountability, voter integrity, improvements at state agencies like DCFS and IDES, and I will be a loud voice of opposition to measures I view as harmful to our state and to those who live here. As always, you can follow my legislation here. I will also highlight Springfield activity through my E Newsletters. Thanks for subscribing, and if you know anyone who might like to be kept up to date on what’s going on in Springfield, please feel free to forward this E Newsletter to them.