It’s shaping up to be a fast and furious month of activity in the Illinois General Assembly and there’s no shortage of problems and issues that need to be addressed, especially the state’s most public embarrassment—a nearly yearlong budget impasse.
While there’s renewed hope that a spending plan emerges to pay for social services to the most needy and whittle down the state’s growing debts, the Better Government Association is also supporting legislation this session that aims to make government, and those who work for it, more accessible, responsive, efficient and ethical.
Here’s a “half time” report on the status of the BGA’s legislative agenda for the current session, scheduled to finish by the end of May:
This session has seen a wide variety of government streamlining initiatives with 22 bills introduced in the legislature.
For years, the BGA has been a leading advocate for “smart streamlining”, the reduction of unneeded or redundant taxing bodies while also making government services more responsive to the public.
Right now, among the most promising is HB 4501, which recently passed the House by a strong 93-19 majority, and gives all Illinois counties the power to reduce and consolidate government agencies in the same manner as DuPage, which in 2013 the state legislature granted the power to dissolve or consolidate 13 county agencies.
DuPage is a work in progress, having slashed only three of those agencies. But it is set to achieve, through a variety of cost sharing programs, procurement reforms as well as consolidation, a projected $100 million in savings over a period of 20 years. Giving that consolidation power to other counties would be a big step in the right direction, the BGA contends.
Also in the mix is SB 388, a comprehensive township consolidation bill that passed the Senate unanimously. It would open the way for townships to merge and dissolve; it also provides for the elimination of highway commissioner offices.
While lawmakers are warming to the idea of cutting or consolidating local offices there’s reluctance to eliminate the statewide Lieutenant Governor office or to consolidate the Treasurer and Comptroller offices. Bills seeking to those reforms have stalled this go-around.
Preserving police records
This is one of the BGA’s main priorities and lawmakers are showing interest in the issue by offering numerous bills to permanently preserve records related to allegations and investigations of police misconduct complaints. Of five bills originally introduced in the General Assembly, two of them (HB6266 and SB 2233) contain the clear bill language BGA and other advocates are working to see adopted. That is:
“All records related to complaints, investigations, and adjudications of police misconduct shall be permanently retained and may not be destroyed.”
The BGA has been in the thick of discussions surrounding these bills, stressing that the preservation of police records is vital to uncovering patterns of police misconduct and wrongful convictions. Our discussions with law enforcement, legislators, advocates and other stakeholders is ongoing.
Moreover, the BGA is working to pass provisions for the expeditious release of police shooting videos and on provisions requiring campus police at private universities to provide the same information that’s made available to the public from municipal, county and state police agencies.
The BGA continues to monitor at least six measures that center upon the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). As in the past, the BGA will fight against bills seeking to water down FOIA or OMA and support those that expand and modernize the public’s right to use these legal measures to keep tabs on government officials and related entities.
Under the current system, a political party with control of the General Assembly and governor’s office gets to draw the legislative district map; if government control is divided and there is an impasse, whichever party’s name is drawn from a hat ultimately gets to draw the map. Either way, maps are drawn behind closed doors and partisan political considerations are paramount. That approach is being challenged on a number of fronts.
In April, the Legislature jumped into the redistricting fray with the introduction of widely differing House and Senate bills. The House measure (backed by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock), passed the House by a
105-7 vote and heads to the Senate.
A Senate proposal, SJRCA 30, passed in that chamber and heads to the House. While adding some openness to the redistricting process, the SJRCA 30 measure largely keeps control of legislative mapmaking in the hands of legislators.
The BGA, along with several other good government groups, has come out against the Senate resolution and reasserted its support of Independent Map Amendment, a citizen-led effort aimed at changing the current redistricting process.
The BGA, along with other advocates of election reform, is supporting an automatic voter registration bill that aims to add many more eligible voters to the voter rolls in Illinois by changing our voter registration process from an “opt-in” to an “opt-out” model. It creates a secure process to confirm voters’ eligibility when they interact with state agencies and registers them automatically unless they choose not to be registered.
This session’s heavy lifting will again center on the budget and addressing the state’s vastly under-funded public pensions. The possibility of an overtime summer session looms if a spending plan is not approved.
While the BGA has not often weighed in on the details of budget controversy per se, we believe any comprehensive solution must include an intelligent mix of revenue, cost cuts and reform.
And we continue to fight against corruption, abuse and inefficiency where public pensions are concerned.
There are still plenty of important issues facing Illinois and the BGA will keep working to advance its mission of greater government efficiency, ethics and transparency.