Welch proposes limiting state House speaker’s tenure to less than a third of the time Madigan served

Welch, who was chosen by his Democratic colleagues last month to replace longstanding House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, proposes to prohibit anyone from being elected to the speaker’s post for more than five terms.

SHARE Welch proposes limiting state House speaker’s tenure to less than a third of the time Madigan served
Newly elected House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch takes the oath of office at the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in January.

Newly elected House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch takes the oath of office at the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center last month.

Justin L. Fowler /The State Journal-Register via AP file

Keeping one of his first campaign promises, new Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch proposed rules for his chamber Monday that would impose term limits on himself or anyone elected to the speaker’s post in the future. 

Welch, who was chosen by his Democratic colleagues last month to replace longstanding House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, proposes to prohibit anyone from being elected to the speaker’s post for more than five terms. 

Madigan had served as speaker for all but two years since 1983, a record-setting tenure that prompted calls for Illinois to enact term limits. 

The same effective 10-year term limit would apply to the position of House minority leader, currently held by Republican Jim Durkin, although it would not be applied retroactively.

That means that, at least according to the new House rules, Durkin could hold the position for five more terms. 

But Republicans noted they already have a rule in their caucus limiting their leader to five terms. Durkin is just beginning his fifth term as GOP leader. 

State House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, speaks during a House session at the Bank of Springfield Center in January.

State House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, speaks during a House session at the Bank of Springfield Center in January.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

The proposed rules, which are expected to be voted upon Wednesday, drew immediate criticism from Republicans who previously had called upon Welch to do more to open up the legislative process, as had some Democrats. 

“With the exception of allowing remote committee meetings during the pandemic, the House Rules are functionally identical to the Madigan-led sessions of the past,” House GOP spokesperson Eleni Demertzis said in a written statement.

“The Speaker retains centralized control over every bill, amendment, or motion. Nothing in these House Rules improve transparency or bring sunlight to legislative proceedings.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, laughs during the inauguration ceremony for the 100th Illinois General Assembly at Sangamon Auditorium at the University of Illinois-Springfield in 2017.

Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP file

Demertzis pointed in particular to long-criticized practices “like taking a midnight vote on a several-hundred-page amendment or budget only moments after it has been filed.” 

These would continue to be allowed under Welch’s rules, she said. 

During his campaign for the post, Welch had promised his fellow legislators that he would support a term-limit provision and that he would consider other rules changes. 

Because they are only rules, the term limits could be changed by a majority vote of any future Legislature. 

State House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, holds his first news conference after being sworn in at the Bank of Springfield Center in January.

State House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, holds his first news conference after being sworn in at the Bank of Springfield Center in January.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

In the past, others have proposed enacting term limits through a constitutional amendment. 

The proposed House rules also would enable the chamber to hold committee and task force meetings remotely “in the case of pestilence or public danger”— an allowance for the COVID-19 pandemic. The state Senate had already moved in that direction, but the House had held back under Madigan.

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