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New House rules: A ‘historic’ break from the ‘ways of the past’ — or just more of the ‘same old game?’

The new rules establish a new term limit of roughly 10 years on the speaker and House minority leader, allow for remote legislating, and ensure bills that are submitted to the Rules Committee in odd-numbered years are sent to a substantive committee or the appropriations committee for consideration.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, during Wednesday’s session on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives.
House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, stands at the podium for roll call during Wednesday’s session on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool

Illinois House Democrats on Wednesday heralded their new rules as a “historic first step” in making the chamber more transparent and accountable, but Republicans dismissed the guidelines as more of the same, complaining that they’re still being treated like mushrooms:

“Keep us in the dark and feed us manure.”

Along party lines, the House voted 70 to 44 to adopt the new procedures for the 102nd General Assembly.

House members convened in Springfield for the chamber’s only scheduled in-person meeting for February. A few members, including former Speaker Michael Madigan, were absent.

The new rules establish a new term limit of roughly 10 years on the speaker and House minority leader, allow for remote legislating, and ensure bills that are submitted to the Rules Committee in odd-numbered years are sent to a substantive committee or the appropriations committee for consideration.

State Rep. Denyse Wang Stoneback, D-Skokie, takes a picture of the roll call on the video board on Wednesday.
State Rep. Denyse Wang Stoneback, D-Skokie, takes a picture of the roll call on the video board during session on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Illinois State Capitol on Wednesday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool

Before the vote, Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, called the rules a “historic first step” in “reforming the ways of the past, and injecting more transparency and accountability,” a reference to a promise he made the day he was sworn into the leadership position last month.

“Change does not happen overnight — it’s a process,” Welch said. “That process began in earnest on Jan. 14, when we could have taken a vote on the rules, we pulled those rules and slowed the process down.”

That slow-down involved House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, overseeing a working group to seek feedback from both Democrats and Republicans, the new speaker said.

Still, “over the past 48 hours all we’ve heard from the other side of the aisle has been spin, spin, spin,” concerning the rules, Welch said, also promising to “keep talking.”

State House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, on Wednesday.
State House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, stands at the podium prior to the start of a House Rules Committee Hearing on Wednesday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool

“I’m going to keep extending my hand to you even though you keep slapping it down,” he told GOP legislators.

Republicans, who have already instituted their own term limits for the minority leader position, said the rules were just “the same old game” that they saw under Madigan, whose iron-fisted control over nearly four decades prompted calls for change among legislators from both parties.

GOP lawmakers were pushing to secure the right for members to have their bills sent to a substantive committee, where it would then be posted and called for a vote. They also wanted daily notice of what will be up for action in the House’s committees and on the floor, the creation of a one-day public review period before amendments can be considered on the House floor and changes to debates on legislation on the floor.

“Make no mistake about what these changes do — this isn’t a new day for a fair competition of ideas. This is substantively the same thing that’s been happening for decades,” state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, speaks during debate of the new House Rules on Wednesday.
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, speaks during debate of the new House Rules on Wednesday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool

“Killing bills in rules or killing bills in a committee or a subcommittee is actually all the same impact,” she said. “While I was hoping that we would see a new day in these rules, where our ideas can get a fair shake, this is the same old game.”

State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, pointed to Congress as an example for the daily notice change the party sought, saying it helps legislators have a “proper understanding of what business will be discussed that week.”

“The majority party does have the numbers to make the rules as they wish … but the majority party has treated us like mushrooms: Keep us in the dark and feed us manure,” Batinick said. “And that’s OK because you have the ability, and the numbers, to do that. The problem is when you’re treating us that way, you’re also treating the entire general public that way.”

Harris also called the rules a “first step in reforming the ways of the past” and bringing in more transparency.

The majority leader committed to an ongoing review of the rules and said the Democratic Caucus’ working group will continue to meet periodically after Wednesday’s vote to “talk about issues regarding the notice for consideration of bills amendments and other legislative measures and committees and on the floor” among other issues.

The House’s next scheduled session days are March 2-4. Welch canceled next week’s in-person meetings out of coronavirus concerns.