Illinois House District 82 Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) introduced House Bill 195 on Wednesday with the intent of ending the practice of passing bills with a simple majority right before a new General Assembly convenes.
Every odd calendar year in Illinois, the “lame-duck” session occurs in early January before the new General Assembly is sworn in. It allows bills to be passed—and go into effect by June 1 of that year—with a simple majority, including votes from members who are about to end their terms and may not be returning.
“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,” Durkin said in a press release. “The lame duck loophole must be closed.”
The most prominent usage of the lame-duck session was in Jan. 2011 when the assembly, led by House Democrats, passed an income tax increase and outlawed capital punishment in the state.
House Bill 195 mandates that “in odd-numbered years, bills passed prior to the convening of the General Assembly require a three-fifths vote of the members elected to each house.”
Durkin was previously highly critical of Illinois Democrats’ (eventually largely fruitless) attempts to use 2013’s lame-duck session to pass bills on issues such as gun-control, same-sex marriage and pension reform. He has emphasized that his opposition is to the format of passage, not necessarily to the bills.
“Are there things I would like to see pass? Of course,” he said in the release. “However, I feel strongly that these proposals should be properly vetted through the legislative process.”
A blog run by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield quotes U of I political-science professor Kent Redfield as saying that while Illinois legislators passing major bills during lame-duck sessions is a relatively new practice, it will be a difficult one to end.
“It’s been way too useful a mechanism in previous General Assemblies,” Redfield told the blog. “I think strategically, you don’t give anything away when you are in the majority.”
The blog also said that Durkin has noted that Democrats have not been alone in using the lame-duck session to pass bills, but said that the current “public opinion crisis”—low opinion of legislators—is cause to “be honest with ourselves and our constituents about what we are doing.”
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