Democrats Push Through Aggressive Agenda in 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- specifically members of the legislative black caucus, 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 as Democrats pushed their agenda. Most of the legislation carried hefty price tags and heaped a great number of 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. Most of the new spending was tied to a package of reform bills from the black caucus that seek to address perceived systemic racism in Illinois. The caucus’ 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.
The most controversial of the black caucus reform bills was a complete overhaul of the 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 a heated debate was truncated by the Democrats 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.
Please know that I am not opposed to criminal justice reform. We have seen too many instances where bad cops have abused their positions and violated the public trust. I spoke about a conversation I had with one of the members of the black caucus about the bill, which you can see by clicking here.
There are steps that can and should be taken to get rid of bad actors and to ensure they never wear a badge again. But the provisions of HB 3653 are extreme. I believe the provisions will not make our neighborhoods safer; they will ultimately hurt those whom the bill was meant to protect. 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.
Among other things, HB 3653:
- Mandates the use of body cameras on all officers in all police departments by 2025, with no state funding to help cover the massive cost;
- Ends cash bail for all criminal offenses;
- Implements new rules for use of force;
- Eliminates law enforcement entities’ ability to collectively bargain;
- Eliminates a current requirement that a sworn affidavit accompany a complaint against a police officer and allows for anonymous complaints;
- Provides for decertification of bad cops using the relaxed complaint rules;
- Increases rights for detainees;
- Decreases rights for victims.
Again, some components are positive, but in my opinion the bill needed a lot more work. Those opposing the bill complained about process as much as the content of the legislation. No Republicans in the House or Senate supported the bill.
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.
We did have one significant victory, however, that stopped a $1 billion tax increase on struggling businesses when House Republicans fought back against an effort to “decouple” Illinois’ tax law from operating loss carryback provisions which were provided for in the Cares Act which passed in March. 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. 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 here in Springfield, and that’s saying a lot. Click here to view some video of my debate with the bill sponsor.
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 before the end of January). We will spend the next few weeks back in our home districts, tending to the needs of our local 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, 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.