The Illinois House of Representatives met yesterday for the first time since being inaugurated on Jan. 9 to adopt the House Rules, HR 34. The most significant change in the rules for the 98th General Assembly is that all bills must receive the approval of the Rules Committee to be sent to substantive committees, where the legislation is critiqued and debated.
In the past, it was guaranteed that every bill would be sent to a substantive committee in the first year of the two-year session. In committee, the bill could be heard, evaluated by its proponents and opponents, and finally, voted on by the committee members.
While the committee hearing on a bill did not necessarily guarantee that the bill would see any real movement, it did guarantee that a group of lawmakers, elected by the residents of their communities, would deliberate on legislation proposed by their colleagues that would affect the citizens who they were elected to serve.
This change in House Rules completely stifles the legislative process by not enabling members bills to be sent directly to committee, where they can be called for a proper committee vote, if requested. Even if the legislature knows that the bill may never see movement outside of the committee, the event of a committee hearing is the only opportunity the general public has to really participate deliberatively in the legislative process.
When a bill is sent to committee, interested parties begin to negotiate the merits of the legislation. In Committee, members listen to oral testimony from people who support or oppose the legislation, and this is when momentum can build behind a bill.
As it stands with the new House Rules, Democrats will control every bill that passes through the Rules committee, as they now have the power to dictate whether or not they will even allow for a bill to be sent to a substantive committee. So, not only do Democrats in Illinois enjoy a supermajority, which gives them with enough votes to be capable of passing whatever they want, but they now have control over what can even be heard. The only situation that could hinder the bipartisan, democratic process more in Illinois is if one party were able to control what legislation can or cannot be proposed.
This is an affront to Illinois residents, restricting their capacity to engage in the legislative process, and it correspondingly compromises the power of the minority party, suppressing their policy objectives by subduing them to the point where their legislative proposals may or may not be deemed worthy of being advanced, because they were not given the chance to be heard.
We expect lawmakers to be very vocal on this issue this week, and throughout session, as they should be.