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Thursday, April 5, 2012 03:53 am

Too many laws?

Lawmakers want to slim down Illinois statutes

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Does Illinois have too many laws? Some state lawmakers think so, and they’re moving ahead with legislation to create a special state board to repeal laws.

Senate Bill 3681, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, creates the Board of Legislative Repealers, which would be tasked with determining whether any of Illinois’ many thousands of statutes are “unreasonable, unduly burdensome, duplicative, or onerous,” or conflict with other laws.

While Dillard says he primarily hopes the board will repeal regulatory laws to create a more business-friendly climate in the Illinois, the move could reach into other arenas like criminal law. Dillard ran for governor in the 2010 Republican primary election, losing to Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.

During a March 23 legislative hearing on the bill, Dillard displayed two stacks of thick books containing Illinois laws. The first stack containing three books, Dillard said, represented state laws when he first started working in the Illinois Statehouse as a legislative staffer in 1977. The second stack containing six additional books represented the laws that have been added since then.

“When you’ve gone from this to that,” Dillard said, pointing from the smaller stack to the larger stack, “something is wrong.”

Dillard said other states like Kansas and Missouri have taken on similar tasks recently, with Missouri dumping 200 “aged statutes.”

The bill picked up several cosponsors in the Senate from both the Republican and Democratic parties before passing the Senate with a vote of 55-0 on March 29. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, took up sponsorship of the bill in the House on March 30.

If the bill becomes law, the public would be able to recommend laws for repeal through a page on the Illinois General Assembly’s website, www.ilga.gov.

A previous version of Dillard’s bill would have created an Office of the Repealer within the governor’s staff, and Dillard said it would not be necessary to hire any new employees.

Dillard says he hopes the repeal board would focus on repealing “superfluous” regulations that he says sour the state’s business climate.

“One thing that we have learned is that excess red tape hurts business,” Dillard said. “It hurts job creation. … The business community of this state is tired of red tape. It’s difficult to figure out what the laws are.”

The repealer board would also likely examine administrative rules that impose regulations not specifically spelled out in state law, Dillard said. It’s common in Illinois for new laws to demand regulations but leave the specifics up to the relevant state agencies and the state’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Despite Dillard’s focus on business, the repeal board could also address other topics like criminal laws.  Lawmakers recently wrapped up a series of reforms to reorganize and clean up the state’s criminal laws, making them easier to read and eliminating conflicting or outdated statutes, but that project didn’t change what constitutes a crime in Illinois.

The Criminal Law Edit and Reform (CLEAR) Initiative began in 2005, with lawmakers and criminal law attorneys working together to update the now 51-year-old statutes. During that process, some lawmakers began to consider reversing the long trend of creating new crimes and imposing harsher sentences on existing ones. Dillard’s “repealer” bill could spotlight the issue and create a fast track for such reforms.

Sen. Maggie Crotty, D-Oak Forest, headed the Senate committee that approved Dillard’s bill.

“I have to say I wholeheartedly support this bill,” Crotty said. “… We have so many statutes and mandates that shouldn’t even be applied today.”

Dillard said he hoped the overall repeal effort would make Illinois laws more easy to understand without a law degree.

“One thing that citizens or businesses should expect is a criminal code or a state law that is easy to read for a layman, and that’s just not the case (with the current laws),” he said.

The apparently popular repeal idea hasn’t slowed the advance of new legislation, however. State lawmakers have introduced more than 10,000 bills and passed 680 new laws during the current legislative session.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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