A modest reform with enormous potential
Tuesday, Jul 1, 2014
* Jon Markel…
* Um, OK. Floor amendments are not just for “adding a comma or fixing typos.” I don’t know where he got that. And bills are routinely amended to attach unrelated stuff to them. Happens almost every day.
Also, the writer implies otherwise, but there was a House Executive Committee hearing and the large floor amendment (HFA2) passed unanimously.
* The key to understanding what happened is what transpired right after Madigan filed his big amendment…
This thing was completely wired by leadership. Why? Because it was a hugely important bill and had been negotiated behind the scenes for months and it was almost ready to go. What finally made it a true “go” was this language, which is in both the withdrawn Amendment 3 (which had a hearing) and the almost identical Amendment 4 (which didn’t have a committee hearing)…
I covered this McPier bill closely and I was let in on some of the behind the scenes maneuvering. It was not an easy bill to pass until Rosemont came aboard. Once Rosemont was placated, supporters could hold a House vote. And check out the House roll call. All HDem targets voted against the bill.
Aside from the usual “Don’t let targets be seen as helping Chicago” political crud, the powers that be likely knew there were some other issues here.
* The GA can sometimes seem like it’s moving fast, but the reality is different. Big stuff like this only moves forward after long, often contentious negotiations. And once the final draft is approved, they move quickly to prevent the possibility of interests chickening out. You run your bill when you have the votes, not before, not long after. Too soon, it dies. Wait too long, it can die.
In an ideal world, none of this would happen. But we don’t live in an ideal world. The history of every state and every democratized nation shows that far more gets done during private legislative negotiations than public hearings. The US Constitution itself was written behind closed doors.
* What this McPier bill history shows about Illinois is the power of legislative leadership. When all four leaders get behind something (Leader Cross ended up voting for it) after having been involved in long negotiations that convinced enough interests to have been placated to make it palatable to membership, bills appear to zip through without effort.
For the most part, members trust that their leaders have done the best they could. So they climb aboard without much of any thought. And therein lies the real Statehouse problem.
Despite their reputations, leaders are not all-knowing. And private negotiations take place in such an enclosed bubble that some important questions just never get asked. The original US Constitution had no protections for the press or religion or any of that other stuff until lots of people outside the Philadelphia bubble demanded them.
Assigning the McPier bill to House Exec was another problem because the committee is totally wired. If both chamber leaders are on board, that bill is gonna fly without problems, or any contrarian questioning. Running it immediately on the floor prevents any potential opponents from getting their acts together, and so important questions often don’t get asked there, either.
* The Illinois Constitution requires that bills be read three days in each chamber. The same does not apply to amendments. That ought to be changed to match the bill requirement.
Maybe it would make legislation like the McPier reforms more difficult to pass, but it would probably make the bills better.