SPRINGFIELD – Just call it the lame-duck shrug.
State representatives return to Springfield on Friday, but if you ask any of them what they expect to consider, you’re more than likely going to get a shrug.
No one knows.
It’s a mystery, wrapped in a conundrum and bound up in a riddle.
"House Speaker Mike Madigan is keeping things pretty close to the vest. We are just a few days out and we just don’t know," said state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield. "I had members of the majority party, Democrats, calling me to see what I had heard about session. They thought I might know, because I represent Springfield. That’s pretty telling when members of the party in control don’t have a clue."
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said he anticipates lawmakers will consider legislation being pushed by the House Democratic Black Caucus. But, as of Monday, no bills had been filed with the House clerk pertaining to that caucus’ agenda.
Among the issues said to possibly be a part of that agenda is a measure that would eliminate "qualified immunity" for police officers. This would allow victims of police misconduct to personally sue the officers as well as the governmental body that employs them.
Leaders of the Black Caucus also are pushing measures pertaining to job training, education funding equity and Medicaid financing.
Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, declined to discuss specifics of the Black Caucus agenda. But he and other members of that caucus have expressed dismay that there are not more minority owners in the state’s marijuana dispensaries.
But state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said it is not enough to know the broad issues to be discussed, legislation needs to be reviewed carefully.
"So far, we haven’t seen any bills," she said. "And we really can’t weigh in until we have seen specific legislation."
Unfortunately, lawmakers are often kept in the dark until shortly before they are about to vote on a bill. This minimizes the opportunity for voters and interest groups to lobby against a bill before it comes up for a vote.
"Children are taught civics, but there are some who don’t like to see it practiced," said Ari DeWolf, a government affairs specialist for the Illinois Policy Institute.
"Lame duck" is the colloquial term for the period between an election and an inauguration. Some of those serving have either lost the election or have chosen not to seek re-election.
These members are thought to be less inhibited in voting against their constituents’ wishes. Indeed, during past lame duck sessions Illinois lawmakers have approved such controversial measures as abolishing the death penalty, creating same-sex civil unions and increasing the state income tax by 66%.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said in a virtual news conference that he fears Madigan will again push for a lame duck tax hike after voters rejected a constitutional amendment to create a graduated income tax.
"They refused to listen to our warnings over and over again," he said. "And now, after voters just sent the Democrats a message, Madigan and his cohorts will be trying to sneak a tax increase — yes, sneak a tax increase — into the lame-duck session."
Brown pooh-poohed the notion that lawmakers may consider an income tax hike during the waning days of the legislative session saying he hadn’t heard the matter discussed.
The session is scheduled to begin Friday and could run until Jan. 13, when the new General Assembly will convene to inaugurate its members.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers haven’t met since late May when they held a brief session to pass a budget and a few other items deemed essential.
That budget is out of whack by $5 billion. It was passed on the hope that Congress would pass a stimulus package that would include aid to struggling state and local governments and that voters in November would approve a constitutional amendment to allow the state to levy a graduated income tax. Neither happened.
Rep. Ford said, "Lame duck session is the time to ramp up taxes if we are to avoid cutting needed programs."
On the other hand, when tax decisions are left to lame ducks — taxpayers should expect to be goosed.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.