SPRINGFIELD — When Democrats in the Illinois House voted in a new Speaker in January, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were optimistic a new era would follow.
But three months later, Republicans claim they’re still being treated unfairly by Democrats who hold supermajorities in both the Illinois House and Senate.
Following the election of Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside), the Illinois House passed a number of rule changes for its spring legislative session, including allowing remote committee work during the pandemic and calling for term limits on legislative leaders.
But Republicans complain the new rules don’t go nearly far enough. GOP members say true reform would mean their bills would get a fair shot at making it out of committee.
“The House Rules are functionally identical to the [former House Speaker Mike] Madigan-led sessions of the past. The Speaker retains centralized control over every bill, amendment, or motion,” House GOP spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement back in February.
Lawmakers like State Rep. Amy Elik (R-Alton) said this act of alleged partisan suppression denies Republican-backed initiatives, like proposals that deal with ethics and pension reform, an opportunity to be debated on the House floor.
“House Democrats broke their promise of working together and went back to their old ways of doing business,” Elik said at a press conference Thursday. “Out of 697 passed out of committee, 82% of the bills were sponsored by Democrats.”
State Rep. David Welter (R-Morris) said the recent sprawling federal corruption investigation that ensnared multiple lawmakers and led to the forced resignation of longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan earlier this year only reinforces the need for authentic discussions on ethics reforms.
“Since assuming the gavel in January, Speaker Welch has said repeatedly in public that ethics needs to be a priority,” Welter said. “It’s been more than three months, and we’ve yet to see one initiative introduced by his majority on this topic. The fact is, we’re still debating reforms that could’ve easily been agreed to and passed months ago by this body.”
Welter and other Republicans said they’ve made good-faith efforts to compromise and make revisions on various pieces of legislation, such as proposals that would ban state lawmakers from serving as lobbyists (HB 3396) and allow for citizen-led recall petitions (HJRCA 4). But Welter said proposals like those are being stalled in committee.
“I think there’s some priorities of members on the Republican Party that, yes, they have made it out,” Welter said. “But when you look at the substantive nature of these bills that have come out of committee, I mean, they’re not allowing Republicans to get actual bills that are substantive.”
Tensions over the legislative process boiled over on the House floor on Thursday. State Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) expressed cynicism with the upcoming discussion over the consent calendar — a list of bills and resolutions that are deemed non-controversial and do not warrant lengthy debate.
“There’s quite a bit of apprehension from many of us on this side of the aisle, and I think understandably so, after a letter came out taking off of the consent agenda close to a dozen bills of House Republicans with no explanation, no insight, no discussion from our side of the aisle that we’re aware of,” Brady said.
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) responded that his side of the aisle has been focusing on Democrats’ priority legislation and “working on a balanced budget.”
“We will be continuing to have meetings on rules in the future, and we will certainly notify you when those discussions happen,” he said.