Rep. Jim Durkin has introduced a bill that would make it tough for lame ducks to ram through controversial legislation.|
The fact that the Republican's HB195 is almost assuredly dead on arrival in the Democrat-dominated General Assembly demonstrates why it is desperately needed.
Lame duck sessions -- the period after an election but before a new legislature is seated -- are yet another weapon in the already well-stocked arsenal of legislative despots who rule the Illinois Statehouse. They allow leaders to pass controversial issues with the will of voters in the rear view mirror of outgoing members. Sen. Durkin's bill requiring a three-fifth majority for bills passed during those sessions rather than simple majorities would all but eliminate such undemocratic action.
Of course, lame duck abuse isn't limited to either Illinois or to Democrats. In pro-union Michigan, for example, outgoing Republicans shoved through right-to-work legislation before going home -- many of them permanently -- in December. And lame luck legislating in Washington is all too common.
But the fact that such unrepresentative lawmaking has become routine doesn't make it right. Nor is the fact that Illinois' lame duck General Assembly in January failed to take a vote on pension reform proof that Rep. Durkin's super-majority isn't needed. The lack of action on pensions is a better illustration of the complexity of the state's $96 billion pension mess than of Springfield's reluctance to act after voters had their say. We doubt, for example, that legislation to grant some illegal immigrants driver's licenses would so easily have been passed by before the November election.
Of course, for evidence of the abuse of lame duck voting, you can't beat the very busy 2011 lame duck General Assembly which passed a host of landmark legislation including the largest state income tax hike in history, legalized civil unions and narrowly approved killing the death penalty.
In keeping a promise to file the lame duck bill, Rep. Durkin, said in a statement, "The legislative calendar was intended to provide plenty of time to move legitimate legislative initiatives through the process. The lame duck loophole must be closed." Besides ensuring that bills which never would be approved could be, lame duck voting reduces accountability because retiring or defeated lawmakers don't have to worry about voter backlash. Worse, the votes they take may be the reason some outgoing lawmakers lost their seat in the first place.
"These two factors, a lower standard and decreased constituent accountability, play into the appeal of using the lame duck session as a way to move otherwise highly controversial legislation," Rep. Durkin. R-Western Springs, said. "Are there things I would like to see pass? Of course; however, I feel strongly that these proposals should be properly vetted through the legislative process. Think of the Illinois Democratic Party tax increase and it might all make sense." That massive tax increase, much of which is supposed to be temporary, is likely to become permanent. If it does, it could be thanks to lame ducks in 2015, if something isn't done to prevent it.
That's why legislative leaders should call the measure for a vote -- and, sadly, why they won't.