Proposed changes to Illinois House Rules are 'functionally identical' to Madigan's, House GOP says

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Term limits on legislative leaders, allowing remote committee hearings, and advancement of all bills to committees are some of the updates to proposed rules for the Illinois House. Republicans say the proposed new rules largely are unchanged from when former Speaker Mike Madigan was in charge.

Typically, House Rules are among the first things voted on when a new term of the Illinois House begins. The rules are what governs members’ conduct and dictate how proposed legislation advances through committees.

The House didn’t vote on rules when lawmakers started a new session Jan. 13. The day was historic in that the House selected a new speaker in state Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, who took over for Madigan, D-Chicago. Madigan was speaker for all but two years from 1983 until last month.

Monday’s proposed rules seem to chip away at the power Madigan fortified over nearly four decades. It’s unclear if Republicans will be on board when the rules come up for a vote Wednesday. Republicans have been opposed to the rules Madigan crafted over the decades.

“With the exception of allowing remote committee meetings during the pandemic, the House Rules are functionally identical to the Madigan-led sessions of the past,” House GOP spokesperson Eleni Demertzis said in a statement. “The Speaker retains centralized control over every bill, amendment, or motion.

“Nothing in these House Rules improve transparency or bring sunlight to legislative proceedings,” Demertzis added. “The same problems previously pointed out by good government advocates – like taking a midnight vote on a several-hundred-page amendment or budget only moments after it has been filed – are allowed by and re-authorized in these Rules for the next two years.”

Messages seeking comment from Welch’s office were not immediately returned.

Among the proposed changes are leadership term limits in the House.

“No member may be elected as Speaker for more than five General Assemblies (ten years), including any term in which the member was elected to fill a vacancy in the office; provided that such service before the commencement of the 102nd General Assembly shall not be considered in the calculation of the member’s service,” the proposed change states.

Such limits have already been in place for both the Democratic and Republican caucus of the Illinois Senate and for internal rules among House Republicans, but they didn’t apply to Democratic leadership in the House, allowing for Madigan’s decades-long rein as speaker.

The proposed rules add committees on Ethics and Elections, Immigration and Human Rights, Police and Fire, and Restorative Justice, alongside other modifications. Special committees on Housing, Child Care Accessibility and Early Childhood Education, and Tourism are created.

Another update says the speaker and minority leader are prohibited from serving on the Rules Committee. Madigan’s rules allowed such conduct.

Another change requires the Rules Committee in odd number years of the two-year General Assembly term to advance legislation to a different committee “prior to the deadline for House committee consideration of House Bills, provided that referral shall not be required for a House Bill that is introduced after introduction deadline for House Bills or for which the Principal Sponsor has submitted … request to hold the bill in the Rules Committee.”

The proposed new rules also allow members to conduct committee hearings remotely “in the case of pestilence or public danger upon declaration of the Speaker.”

“The technology or software must, at a minimum, be sufficient to (1) verify the identity of a member who is participating remotely, (2) allow the public, including representatives of the press, to hear or view each member and witness who is participating remotely, and (3) allow witnesses to testify as permitted,” the rules state.

For the House’s Special Investigating Committee, one rule modified in the proposal is to have the highest ranking member of the majority caucus retain the powers of the speaker if the speaker is the petitioner or the subject of the committee’s investigation. It’s the same for the minority leader.

The same process goes for the Select Committee on Discipline, which would be created if charges against a lawmaker were advanced from the SIC.

This would clarify the situation faced last year when Madigan was the subject of an SIC probe over his involvement in the Commonwealth Edison bribery scheme during the final nine years of his term as Speaker. Madigan recused himself and left House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, to select Democratic members.

The House will vote on the rules Wednesday, the first time they’ll be in the House chambers at the Illinois State Capitol in nearly a year. The previous session in May of last year and lame duck last month were offsite at a convention center where it cost taxpayers an additional $330,000.

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