SPRINGFIELD – With the first year of the 102nd General Assembly mostly wrapped up, lawmakers as of Friday had officially passed 664 bills through both houses for eventual consideration by the governor.
Gov. JB Pritzker had signed 17 of them as of Friday, including the Thursday signing of the state’s operating budget and a bill making several changes to the state election code.
Charlie Wheeler, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield who covered the Illinois General Assembly for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than two decades, said he was struck by the “progressive nature” of the bills passed by the General Assembly this year.
“The voting legislation, for example, you look at what other states are doing and then you look at what we did, that was kind of an example” of the strongly Democratic legislation that passed this year, Wheeler said.
That elections law, which took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, instructs election authorities to create a permanent vote-by-mail list which voters may choose to join. It also makes Election Day 2022 a state holiday and requires election authorities to create a central voting site where all residents within the authority’s jurisdiction can cast a ballot on Election Day 2022.
It also allows political candidates to use campaign funds for child care and care for other dependents, and requires that any vacancy in the General Assembly be filled in an open meeting, rather than behind closed doors. It beefs up cybersecurity requirements as well.
It allows – but does not require – county jails to establish polling places to allow voting by inmates who are residents of the county and have not been convicted of the offense for which they are in custody. It also creates provisions for curbside voting during early voting and on Election Day.
Like next year’s budget, the elections bill passed with support from only supermajority Democrats – a common theme for some of the more controversial legislation that has passed during Pritzker’s time in office. Partisan bills included a 2019 minimum wage hike, placing an ill-fated graduated income tax on the 2020 ballot, criminal justice reforms that passed in January, and newly drawn legislative maps that will likely help Democrats maintain those supermajorities.
While there have been bipartisan victories as well, such as the budget and capital infrastructure plans passed during Pritzker’s first year in office, legalization of adult-use marijuana, and expanding gambling, the partisan makeup of the General Assembly has allowed the governor to use his veto sparingly.
A supermajority is reached when a party has at least 71 votes in the House or 36 in the Senate, giving them the ability to override a governor’s veto. Democrats have been over those numbers for the entirety of Pritzker’s time in office.
Wheeler said it’s common to see fewer vetoes in such a situation. But he also noted Pritzker has worked well with Democrats in the General Assembly, despite some reported clashes, particularly pertaining to negotiations behind an energy bill that has repeatedly stalled when nearing a vote this year.
“They’ve been on pretty much the same page,” Wheeler said, noting any disagreements are “nothing compared to some of the past animosity, for example, with Madigan and (former Democratic Gov. Rod) Blagojevich who sort of mutually detested each other.”
Pritzker has used the veto just 11 times as governor.
In his first year, Pritzker vetoed just eight of the 599 bills passed in the regular session and one of the 38 bills passed in the veto session. The majority of those vetoes were procedural due to similar language being passed in other bills during the same General Assembly.
In early 2020, he was nearly unanimously overridden on a veto of a bill creating tax breaks for aircraft parts. But another override vote called by the Republican sponsor of a bill affecting the state’s ability to apply for waivers for state employee insurance failed in 2019.
Pritzker’s second year was slower paced, with just 22 bills passing both houses in the regular session which was waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers then came back for a “lame duck” session in January 2021, passing 23 bills, including several measures backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, before the 101st General Assembly adjourned.
Pritzker vetoed one of those bills, a measure establishing pretrial interest on civil monetary awards, as lawmakers negotiated a different pretrial interest measure that he signed earlier this year.
In contrast, according to a Capitol News Illinois analysis of Illinois General Assembly website data, former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued 133 vetoes in the 95th General Assembly of 2007 and 2008, the final one before his 2009 impeachment. In that two-year session, 87 of those vetoes became law either with the changes Blagojevich suggested or through legislative overrides.
Things went better for Blagojevich’s successor, Pat Quinn, in his first full term. Quinn, a Democrat with Democrats in control of the General Assembly, vetoed 41 bills in the 97th General Assembly, with 17 becoming law with legislator action. In the 98th General Assembly, he vetoed 25 bills, 10 of which became law.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, meanwhile, issued 111 vetoes in the 99th General Assembly of 2015 and 2016, with only four of them overturned, as Democrats were just short of the supermajority threshold in the House.
Rauner saw more Republican pushback in the 100th General Assembly in 2017 and 2018, including when it came to passing the state’s first operating budget in more than two years by overriding his veto. He issued 142 vetoes in the 100th General Assembly, 51 of which became law through lawmaker action.
This week, Pritzker issued his first veto of the current General Assembly, a technical fix to drafting errors in the state budget. Lawmakers inadvertently left out effective dates in portions of the bill, and they accepted Pritzker’s changes on partisan lines. He signed the bill Thursday with the changes.