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Special session not looking likely

Monday, Aug 29, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Back in early July, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the two Democratic legislative leaders, House Speaker Chris Welch and Senate President Don Harmon, issued a joint statement, which in part said: “We plan to work closely together for the remainder of the summer to assess every possibility of what we can do and convene a special session in the coming months.”

But the fine print of the rest of that statement has slowed things down: “As we build on Illinois’ nation-leading abortion protections and access, it is essential to bring lawmakers and advocates into the room to continue to work together. In the coming weeks, as the ripples of the decision to overturn Roe are felt throughout the nation, we expect to get an acute sense of our needs and how Illinois can play an even more vital role in standing up for reproductive freedom.”

Lawmakers and advocates have been brought together for talks ever since that special session statement was issued, but, as always, the devil is in the details.

Advocates and several legislators appear to only want to pass bills with immediate effective dates. And that means each chamber would have to come up with three-fifths super majorities if anything is passed before the end of this calendar year. The voting threshold for immediate effective dates drops to simple majorities starting Jan. 1. Until then, per the state constitution, the earliest a bill passed with a simple majority can become law is next June 1.

And it almost seems like every few days brings a new legal twist from another anti-abortion state legislature. Just the other day, for instance, a federal judge temporarily blocked part of Idaho’s near-total abortion ban because it appears to violate a federal law mandating the provision of emergency health care. The suit was brought by the U.S. Attorney General. Indiana’s sweeping new anti-abortion law takes effect in September. Iowa’s supreme court flip-flopped in June and ruled that the state’s constitution does not protect abortion rights after all. And new bans took effect last week in Tennessee, Texas and North Dakota, according to NPR.

Also, new ideas are popping up with frequency as laws from other states are being analyzed. An idea from Democratic secretary of state candidate Alexi Giannoulias’ campaign to block anti-abortion states from using Illinois traffic camera images to track their residents who travel here for abortions is just one of them.

Giannoulias’ proposal would prohibit data gathered by automatic license plate readers from being used to assist other states track their residents while they’re in Illinois for possible violations of abortion laws in their home states. “Illinois must enact protections to ensure that data is not used to target women seeking access to abortion services or employing it as any type of surveillance system to track them,” Giannoulias told WBBM Radio.

His Republican opponent Rep. Dan Brady has responded by saying he’ll stick to improving services and cutting wait times and not involve himself in policy. Giannoulias replied that he could “walk and chew gum” at the same time.

It was a clever move to tie the mostly ministerial secretary of state office to actual public policy that’s in the headlines every day and driving the nation’s political dialogue. And that’s clearly a sign of a strong campaign.

Along those lines, one of the measures that the legislative leaders and the governor hoped to pass in a special session was an advisory referendum on this November’s ballot asking if voters wanted a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights.

These sorts of referenda were a favored tool of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who would use issues like a tax surcharge on millionaires to drive up Democratic election-day turnout and, to a lesser extent, provide a boost to future legislative initiatives on the topic, or provide an excuse for not doing anything further.

A referendum has been rejected by many advocates and pro-choice legislators alike, who want to see actual results, not symbolism for obvious political gain.

The bottom line here is that a special session on abortion rights is not looking all that likely any longer.

And the same thing goes for gun law reforms. There are a lot of moving parts to this issue and some legislators, particularly Downstaters, would rather not poke the gun lobby before Election Day.


  1. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 8:56 am:

    I know I’ve been a critic of Alexi during the primary, but that’s what primaries are for. Alexi Giannoulias will make an excellent Secretary of State.

  2. - Roman - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 9:11 am:

    Would a special session provide Tier 1 Dem legislative candidates a *clear* communications advantage? Does JB really need a special session to score political points against floundering opponent with an improving national environment for his party?

    Until the answer to both those questions is a definitive yes, there will be no return to Springfield.

  3. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 9:16 am:

    If character isn’t really a factor for a candidate, Alexi could be acceptable

    To the post,

    Great read, I’m reminded that “show business” is neither governing or problem solving. If the goal of the exercise was to engage voters with voting records, I was/am cool with that, but less than 9 weeks out, how about Pritzker and DPI reminding voters that in Florida… a 16 year old is being required to carry a pregnancy to FULL term.

    Requiring. Pregnancy. A 16 year old.

    So, maa sad me the case that Illinois Republicans are too dangerous to women’s health. With the right amount of cash and message, that case is easily made.

    Simple is sometimes better, but simply don’t sit on your hands, make the case aggressively these final weeks.

  4. - RNUG - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 10:49 am:

    Existing IL laws on abortion are plenty broad enough / liberal enough. (Some would say too much so.) It’s pretty clear you likely won’t be able to get a 3/5 th’s majority at the moment for anything other than minor technical tweaks.

    Right now you can use it as a campaign issue, but Illinois is going stay blue regardless of what direction the nation goes. The politically smart thing would be to hold off on additional expansive legislation until after the election. And I agree that the advisory referendum thing has been overused and likely would not make a significant difference.

  5. - levivotedforjudy - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 11:17 am:

    Since everyone is so busy campaigning, it makes sense to wait. But the even more important reason to wait is to see what pops up from the rulings in other states and talk to health care providers who are at “ground level” to learn about what they are experiencing. Some of the realities are mind-boggling. Wait and then try to cover as much as you can.

  6. - Politistage - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 1:55 pm:

    What is also frustrating is that legislators spend so much time talking about the parameters of the conversation than actually getting down to deciding on what gun safety or reproductive rights package to move forward. I have it on good authority that the 3 weeks the Senate working groups have been meeting, all they have discussed is the history of legislation on gun safety snd reproductive rights in Illinois and haven’t really been discussing peoples ideas. Frankly, it’s ridiculous and no wonder people get upset with legislators. They don’t strike while the iron is hot!

  7. - Romeo - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 2:47 pm:

    Guys, dont forget that Lame Duck is still happening. We might not have time for a super majority special session but the 102nd assembly still has a little bit more lawmaking power after November.

    But besides that, I hope Alexi pulls that off. Would be a great idea to protect women coming in even though its not necessarily his constituency.

  8. - Leslie K - Monday, Aug 29, 22 @ 8:33 pm:

    Complimenting Alexi is not something I do with frequency, but I like the ALPR idea to protect women from out-of-state.

  9. - David F - Tuesday, Aug 30, 22 @ 10:24 am:

    Should banning automatic license plate readers also be in place to protect Illinois residents that go to other states to violate illinois specific laws like purchasing ammo? Should we enable violations of other state laws other than our own, I think that’s called hypocrisy at it’s finest.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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