House Rules Committee to maintain power in legislative process
Five-member committee can prevent movement of any bill
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The five-member Illinois House Rules Committee will maintain its power over the legislative process for the 101st General Assembly despite objections from Republican members of the committee this week.
One day after the rules passed committee by a 3-2 vote, the House voted 73-42 along party lines Tuesday to keep the rules in place with only minor adjustments.
Per the rules, every bill that is heard on the House floor is first assigned to the Rules Committee, which then meets to assign bills to substantive committees to be formally heard by lawmakers and the public.
Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), one of the Rules Committee’s two Republican members, said this procedure gives wide-ranging power to the committee’s three Democrats to slow or stop the legislative process for bills they don’t like.
“We support and are striving for rules that improve transparency,” Demmer said, noting concerns about how the rules limit the ability of rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties to represent their constituents.
Demmer said if the three Democrats on the Rules Committee decided to halt a bill, it would require approval from three-fifths of each of the Democratic and Republican caucuses to bypass the committee to bring the bills to the House floor for full debate.
“Do you think it’s appropriate that a motion to discharge a bill from the Rules Committee has a more stringent threshold than an amendment to the Constitution of Illinois?” Demmer asked.
Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the Rules Committee chairman and assistant House majority Leader, said the Rules Committee is necessary to sort and assign the 6,000-plus bills that originate in the Legislature each year.
“Thousands and thousands and thousands of bills are referred out to other committees,” Harris said. “I think it’s sort of a solution in search of a problem to find, out of 6,000 bills, the two or three that do not advance and say “Aha! Something is going on.””
He also noted that the current process has been in use for several years, including by Republican leadership in the 1990s, and called the process “thorough,” “rigorous” and inclusive of both sides.
“This process is old and it has worked well for decades,” Harris said. “It’s old and we know it works and we know it’s worth keeping.”
House Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin said he voted for the rules in 1995, but “times have changed.”
“Twentieth century Republicans are providing the foundation for 21st century Democrats in today’s debate,” he said. “Things have changed a lot in this state and in this country since then. But to use that as a foundation for today’s rules is mindboggling, and even worse it’s breathtaking.”
Durkin added that the bills were “a reflection of the past and not the future,” and put a damper on the air of bipartisanship that has pervaded in Springfield since Gov. J.B. Pritzker was elected.
Harris said allegations of a rigged system were out of order as well, and only one bill that was filed before the established deadline was held in Rules Committee without being assigned.
“There is a big difference between not getting the things you desire and the system being rigged,” he said. “I think that’s very important for us to remember.”
At Monday’s committee meeting, Demmer also raised concerns that the Rules Committee does not abide by the same six-day posting requirements as regular House committees, and has few requirements for posting the content that will be discussed at the meetings.
Harris said Rules Committee discussion is always subject matter and “ministerial” in nature, which allows the committee to discuss bill assignments when the committee is called as needed.
Demmer was joined by Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) in opposing the rules at the committee hearing Monday, and they were joined in opposition by the rest of the Republican caucus Tuesday.