Speaker Madigan's plan to get rid of state employees faces several hurdles
Fumigating state government of any vestiges of Rod Blagojevich is proving more complicated than people may have thought.
As a result, changes may be made to the most recent plan before it is presented to a House committee Wednesday.
As proposed last week by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, the bill targets nearly 3,000 state workers and members of boards and commissions who got their positions while Blagojevich and George Ryan served as governors. If Madigan's bill becomes law, those workers can stay for another 60 days before they lose their jobs. During that time, Quinn could decide to keep the people in their positions.
(See a database of affected jobs at http://thedome.sj-r.com/data/rutan/.)
Steve Brown, Madigan’s spokesman, said there's "been some conversation between our staff and the governor's staff" about changing the bill. He said Tuesday there's been no agreement on the changes and refused to discuss it further.
Bob Reed, spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn, said the office is still reviewing House Bill 4450 and "may propose some changes," but said it is too early to discuss them.
Madigan said Quinn promised to "fumigate" state government of Blagojevich holdovers, but is moving too slowly for his taste. The law would speed up the process, he said.
But critics of the bill, including some Democrats, said it should be more limited in scope than Madigan is proposing.
"I fail to see what the purpose of this is," said Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria. "There are some people who ought to be looked at. There may have been some people a little too tied into the former governor and may have been involved in questionable practices. It wasn't sweeping like this."
"I prefer we do this with a scalpel rather than a hatchet," said Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville.
Keeping Madigan's original plan intact could also lead to legal action that could tie the state up for years. Carl Draper, a Springfield lawyer with extensive experience representing state employees on personnel issues, said the public may be clamoring for what Quinn and Madigan are calling a "fumigation," but the process must be handled carefully.
"If the (original) bill were passed out of both houses and signed into law, you could see another year or two of litigation," Draper said. "I think the Illinois public is eager to see an ethical examination of employment practices, but the caution is to do that carefully and in conformity with the law."
Part of the problem is the complex personnel system used in the state and where employees fall under its classifications. The list of jobs covered by Madigan's bill includes both "Rutan exempt" jobs and jobs that are purely political appointments.
In Rutan exempt jobs, the state can use political affiliation as a criteria for deciding who should get hired, fired or promoted. In most other jobs, the courts have said politics cannot play a role in those decisions. The name comes from the 1990 decision by the United States Supreme Court in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois.
But many people who hold Rutan exempt jobs are still protected by the Civil Service code. If they feel they've been wrongly disciplined or fired, they can bring a case to the Civil Service Commission. People without any protections, usually referred to as "double exempt" jobs in state jargon, can't appeal to the commission.
Draper also said there could be separation of powers issues if people hired under a governor lose their jobs because of a decree by the legislature. State law contains provisions about termination that can provide some protection even to people not covered by civil service provisions.
Making a job "double exempt" provides great latitude to a governor in putting who he wants in the job. The number of those positions increased under Blagojevich, even as the total number of state jobs decreased. State agencies must get approval from the Civil Service Commission to make jobs appointed positions with virtually no restrictions.
Annual reports compiled by the commission show there were 55,377 employees in the budget year that ended June, 2004. Of those, 642 were exempt. For the year ended June, 2008, the annual report said there were 50,649 employees with 792 exempt positions.
Madigan's bill applies to people brought on board between January 11, 1999 and January 29, 2009. It covers the time from George Ryan taking office to Blagojevich being ousted.
The bill covers directors, deputy directors and assistant directors of state agencies, members of boards and commissions under the governor, regular employees of state agencies unless they hold a job protected by the Rutan decision, employees who hold term appointment jobs in which they work for the state for specific period of time and need to have their terms periodically renewed, and any other official who needs confirmation by the Illinois Senate.
Dan Leikvold, an employee of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, is one of those who could be affected by the bill. He doesn't argue that some people should be weeded out.
"I think this goes too far," he said. "We have administrators in our department who are really good at what they do and really work hard. I don't know what the criteria is to be retained. If it is based on my work, I would think I'd be retained, but who knows?"
If keeping a job is based on political connections, he said, he is worried.
"I'm not that well connected," Leikvold said.
Andrew Thomason and Ryan Keith contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 email@example.com.