SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – State representatives were in the Illinois Capitol for the first time in nearly a year Wednesday. Members took a historic vote on new House rules under Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. The rules passed on a partisan 70-44 vote.
Democrats say it’s a new day in Springfield as the chamber passed rules creating term limits for the Speaker and Minority Leader. They can now serve no longer than five terms, 10 years, as a leader.
Remote legislating is now allowed for the House as well. Representatives can hold virtual committee hearings and conduct day-to-day business online, similar to their colleagues in the Senate.
Bills must also move out of the House Rules Committee in the odd year of each General Assembly. The Speaker and Minority Leader are also prohibited from serving on the Rules Committee. Still, Republicans are concerned their proposals will never get called for a vote in substantive committees.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen over the past few General Assemblies, because of the criticism of the Rules Committee, they’re automatically sent to that standing committee. What happens there? Nothing different,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. “They die.”
Welch said Republicans should work with chairs of each committee to give their bills a chance. The suburban Democrat explained he established a good relationship with Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) in the House Executive Committee because they talked to one another.
“These changes incorporate a number of items, Leader, that Republicans have long advocated for,” Welch emphasized. “These rules mirror what the Republicans across the way have consistently supported. Consistently!”
Republicans are also concerned that the rules only address house bills. That means resolutions and constitutional amendments may be left in the Rules Committee. Caucus members already introduced several constitutional amendments to give voters more power in the legislative process.
They feel Democrats should have also included a reasonable review period for floor amendments to proposals. Republicans said lawmakers and the public have constitutional rights to know what members vote on at least 24 hours before it’s called on the floor.
“The constitution doesn’t have any special provisions that say ‘when convenient,’” said Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon). “It doesn’t have a special clarification that says these rules shall be in place so long as it doesn’t make it more difficult for the majority party to enact legislation.”
House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said he understands the concern from Republicans. However, he recalled several instances where the caucus requested floor amendments on proposals with limited time, bypassing posting requirements.
“When things are good for you guys and you want them, it seems fine to go ahead and do them. But if it’s something we want, then it seems to be a problem,” Harris said. “A lot of the issues that we’re talking about are important to us too. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Republicans argued Welch’s rules were nearly identical to rules under former Speaker Mike Madigan, except for the sections addressing term limits and remote legislating. Democrats explained the rules working group will review the resolution and add necessary changes if needed. Yet, Republicans find it hard to believe the rules will change during session. Welch said there’s still plenty of work ahead.
“Protecting those people and the values as voters sent the majority of this chamber to do is not controlling the process. It is the fundamental responsibility of a representative body,” Welch explained. “That’s what this is about. That’s what these rules are about, ladies and gentlemen.”
With the rules now in place, committee chairs can schedule their virtual hearings. Some expect the Capitol could stay empty again until this spring.