Reform panel will meet in Peoria to tackle 'government structure'
Political scandals associated with Illinois’ two most recent ex-governors have tainted state government’s reputation, spurring the creation of two new, reform-minded panels. One of them will gather in Peoria on Monday to discuss legislative redistricting and other subjects dealing with “government structure.”
The Illinois Reform Commission will meet from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Bradley University’s Hartman Center Theater. The meeting is open to the public.
For weeks, the commission has been holding meetings all over the state, but it most often gathers in Chicago.
The commission will hear “expert testimony” on multiple topics, said Brad McMillan, a commission member and head of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley. Those topics include:
--The powerful role played by the “rules committees” in the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate. To a large degree, they decide whether legislation will advance.
--The flawed process used to determine how Illinois redraws its legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years after a new U.S. Census.
--The rushed, last-minute way the General Assembly typically approves a new state budget, generally with little input from rank-and-file lawmakers.
Rules committees are the first stop for every piece of legislation filed in the General Assembly.
The problem, McMillan said, is that legislative leaders “can give signals that they don’t want certain bills to move at all, and (the rules committee) turns out to be the graveyard for a lot of legislation.”
McMillan said that former state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, one of Monday’s witnesses, is expected to propose a solution: If a piece of legislation attracts eight co-sponsors, it must be allowed to advance through the legislative process.
Illinois’ system of redistricting is unusual. If lawmakers are unable to agree on a new redistricting map, the names of one Republican and one Democrat are placed in a hat. Depending on whose name gets picked, that political party wins control of the redistricting process — meaning they can draw legislative boundaries in a way that benefits their own political party.
A new U.S. Census will happen next year.
“We’re the only state in the country where if a bipartisan (redistricting) map is not agreed to, you draw a name out of a hat, and that party gets to call all the shots,” McMillan said. “It’s not the best system to serve the people of the state of Illinois.”
By comparison, Iowa does not use political demographic information — meaning how many Democrats or Republicans live in an area — in legislative redistricting, McMillan said. As a result, Iowa’s maps look “very reasonable,” and that state has a greater number of politically competitive races at the state and federal level, he said.
McMillan said Rauschenberger also is expected to testify to the commission about changing state government’s budget-making process so it’s more transparent.
Under one proposal, a state budget agreement would have to be available for review for at least two weeks before lawmakers could vote on it.
“This forces the leadership to get out and not do a last-minute, last-day negotiation that requires our duly elected representatives no time whatsoever to review the details of a thousand-plus-page document,” McMillan said. “It’s not good government.”
“It gets to a basic question: Why do we elect our local state representatives and state senators if they really have little say in what takes place with our state government?”
Mud on Illinois
To spotlight the need to get rid of government corruption, members of the institute’s student advisory committee will encourage fellow students to throw water balloons at a 3-by-5-foot sign depicting a mud-stained image of Illinois. The sign will be posted outside the meeting site.
The idea is “to wash the mud off of the state,” said Josh Cox, a Bradley senior who is studying political science. “We’re kind of starting the cleansing process.”
While the Reform Commission’s Peoria meeting is open to the public, there likely won’t be enough time to hear from witnesses who haven’t already been scheduled, McMillan said.
The commission has set up two main venues for accepting public comments: through its Web site at www.reformillinoisnow.org and at “town hall” meetings throughout the state.
The next town hall meetings are April 6 at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign and April 23 at Southern Illinois University’s higher education campus in East St. Louis. Details and the full schedule are on the commission’s Web site.
The Reform Commission is one of two high-profile panels examining how to prevent and root out corruption in state government.
Shortly before he became governor in late January, then-Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn tapped former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to chair the 15-member commission.
At about the same time, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton created a 16-member legislative panel, the Joint Committee on Government Reform.
Separately, the groups have been studying similar issues, such as campaign finance and government transparency, including the state’s open meetings and Freedom of Information laws.
Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 email@example.com.