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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 03:55 pm

To reform the Illinois House, change the rules

Have you ever wondered why the Illinois House of Representatives has never had a vote on common-sense proposals such as allowing voters to recall state public officials or a measure that would restrict everyone’s campaign contributions in the general election?

The reason is a rule in the Illinois House that allows a single member to block a bill from consideration. Think about that. One person can stop 117 other members of the Illinois House from voting on bills that are important to the people of the State of Illinois.

In recent years, the Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan, who has been in Springfield for 40 years, has used this rule to block dozens of proposals he didn’t think the rest of the members of the House should vote on. Many of these proposals were reform measures that would curtail the ever-growing influence of those in power.

Illinois House Republicans think this rule and a number of others need to be changed. We have proposed eight new rules which we believe will stop some of the most egregious abuses of power in the current rules. To change Springfield you need to not only change the current failed policies, but also the dysfunctional process that created them.

Our plan is to open up the operations of the Illinois House, make it more democratic, effective and accountable. It is time to move away from the current system where power is concentrated in the hands of one or two people and toward a more citizen-friendly process.

We realize many of these changes probably won’t mean a whole lot to the average citizen who is not involved in the legislative process…until an important issue is mysteriously buried in the Rules Committee and a vote is not taken. Then the obvious question is “why does this happen?” House Republicans believe if a proposal has broad bipartisan support it should not be blocked from being voted on by one person.

Under our proposed rules, if a bill has bipartisan support it will be released from the Rules Committee for a vote. Other rules changes designed to increase public input and transparency include: making Rules Committee meetings open to the public and allowing public testimony; requiring substantive amendments to bills to be made available the day prior to any Committee or House Floor action; and, in an effort to increase transparency in the state budget process, we propose a bill containing the final state budget shall be available for public review for no less that three days prior to a vote.

The Illinois House currently has more than 60 committees, many of which are duplicative and serve little or no purpose. We would reduce that number by half, to around 30, to make the committee process, where the bulk of legislative work is done, more effective and accountable.

Our plan would also change how the Illinois House deals with the Illinois state budget, which is frankly, a mess. We propose that instead of the current practice of huge lump-sum appropriations, budgets will be passed that outline specific line-item spending for various programs. We also believe appropriation committees should adopt “performance based budgeting” in which existing and proposed programs must be justified and shown to be effective. Appropriation committees would also be involved in a year-round budget implementation process, rather than the current three-month review.

The proposals offered here are not a complete list and they are not a “cure all” for all of the ills facing state government. But, all successful businesses and organizations have sound business practices and solid administrative foundations. Sadly, Illinois state government does not.

The Illinois House of Representatives needs to reform the way it operates. Changing our procedures will build a strong foundation toward the goal of changing our failed policies.

Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, is minority leader of the Illinois House of Representativies.

If you would like to view these proposed changes in greater detail, more information is available at www.ilhousegop.org.
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