Rep. Steve Andersson: Return Power of Illinois House to all 118 Members
on Monday, January 23, 2017
We are supposed to be a representative democracy, where all Illinois residents from every House district are represented equally. Unfortunately, that is not the case in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Every two years, the people of Illinois elect representatives from 118 districts across the state to serve as their voice in Springfield. Once sworn in, these representatives have the opportunity to take two important votes.
The first is to elect a speaker of the House, which typically goes to the leader of the majority party.
The second important vote, which occurs two or three weeks later, is to adopt a set of procedural rules to govern the House for the subsequent two years.
For 32 of the last 34 years, those rules have been drafted in a manner that consolidates control with one individual - Speaker Michael Madigan - allowing him to circumvent our representative democracy and make the House subject to the power of one.
For example, the speaker has authority over what bills are called for a vote and when. Rank-and-file members receive little or no notice and therefore don't have the ability to prepare for amendments to legislation that are about to be debated in a committee or legislation that will be considered for passage on the House floor. When considering that at any given moment there are hundreds upon hundreds of bills ready to be called for a vote, no one, including our constituents, benefits with these surprise or unplanned votes.
In addition, House committees can only be called with the consent of the speaker, meaning that the Democratic members serving as committee chairmen, each earning an additional stipend for their work, can't even convene their own committees when they deem fit.
Another example is the requirement to discharge a bill from the tightly-controlled Rules Committee.
The Rules Committee is controlled by three of the speaker's most loyal stalwarts who operate under his direction and can be removed by him at any time. This committee is important because the rules require that all legislative measures be immediately assigned to this committee when filed. Nothing may advance any further through the legislative process unless the Rules Committee approves it.
Needless to say, nothing gets through Rules Committee without the speaker's blessing, unless a discharge motion is successfully filed. This requires support from three-fifths majorities of both Democratic and Republican Caucuses. If you do the math that means it requires 72 votes, not 71, to simply discharge a bill from the Rules Committee, making it easier to override a veto than to discharge a bill from Rules.
The most egregious component of this, however, is that rulings of the speaker on such a motion may not be appealed. So, even if the requirements of the rule were met for the discharge of a particular bill, the speaker could, without cause, rule the motion out of order. No member can question this and it cannot be overturned.
There are other examples, many of which make Illinois an outlier when compared to other states, which prove that we owe it to those we represent to take a stand and restore the House as a true representative democracy.
The speaker is the speaker. It's his right to propose his own rules, just as he has for 32 of the past 34 years that he has been speaker. But that doesn't mean we have to support them.
Democratic members have spoken out publicly on the need for changes to the way the Illinois House operates, calling for a more open and transparent process. This is their chance to demonstrate their commitment to making positive change on behalf of all Illinois families.
We have the opportunity to return representative democracy to the people by rejecting Speaker Madigan's rules and making reforms to restore fairness that will allow legislators of both parties, to advocate for the people of their districts. I hope that when it comes time to vote, Democrats and Republicans will stand together and say, "Enough is enough," and oppose Speaker Madigan's rules. Let's return power back to the 118 members of the House and break the power of one.