Senate Week in Review: December 15 – 19, 2014

Lawmakers will return to Springfield Jan. 8 in response to a Dec. 18 proclamation by Gov. Pat Quinn, calling the General Assembly back to consider a 2016 election for the comptroller position left vacant by the recent passing of the late Judy Baar Topinka, said State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). Legal analysis has demonstrated that the Illinois Constitution requires Governor-elect Bruce Rauner to appoint a comptroller to a four-year term.

Controversy, spurred by confusion and misinformation, also surrounds changes to the state’s eavesdropping law that was sent to the Governor this week.

Quinn calls special session on comptroller vacancy

Gov. Quinn ordered the General Assembly to return to Springfield for a Jan. 8 special session to consider a 2016 election for state comptroller. However, while the Governor can call lawmakers back, he cannot compel them to pursue any legislative action.

Senate and House Republican leaders said the Governor is seeking “a partisan and constitutionally-dubious eleventh hour law,” and pointed out that it would certainly face a costly and lengthy legal challenge. In a statement, they stressed that the Illinois Constitution requires the Governor-elect to appoint a new comptroller to a four-year term.

Earlier in the week, the Attorney General also found that to be the case, stating that while Quinn has the authority to choose a successor for the current unexpired term, upon taking office on Jan. 12, it will be Governor-elect Rauner’s responsibility to name the comptroller for the four-year term Topinka was just elected to serve. While Madigan’s statement is not an official legal opinion, it carries with it the authority and legal expertise associated with the Attorney General’s office.

However, as part of her statement, Madigan also advocated for a 2016 election for the comptroller’s office.

New eavesdropping law sent to Governor

Confusion surrounding a change in the state’s eavesdropping law has sparked controversy. However, Senate Bill 1342, which was recently sent to the Governor for consideration, actually seeks to strike a balance between protecting an individual’s privacy and ensuring public accountability of police and other public officials.

There has been a lot of discussion, particularly on social media, that Senate Bill 1342 will make it illegal to record a police officer, regardless of the circumstances.

In reality, under Senate Bill 1342, the public maintains the right to record police, because police have no reasonable expectation while doing their job in public.

However, secretly recording private conversations would be illegal, protecting an individual’s right to privacy.

For years, Illinois’ privacy protections and eavesdropping prohibitions were some of the nation’s most strict. It was illegal to record anyone, in any context, without the consent of everyone involved. The same law protecting someone’s privacy could also send someone to prison for recording a police officer making an arrest.

In response, last spring the Supreme Court ruled portions of the law were unconstitutional. Thus the statute was negated, and all expectations of privacy with respect to eavesdropping or digital recording were stripped from the law. As a result, all conversations—public or private—could be recorded without fear of penalty.

Senate Bill 1342 was introduced to rectify this flaw. The measure seeks to balance two competing interests: the interest of one party to record and later disclose a conversation, and the right of the other party to keep the conversation from being recorded without their consent, if they can reasonably expect the conversation to have been considered private.

Citizens will be allowed to record the non-private conversations of others, such as a government official giving a speech in front of a group, a loud public argument, or conversations taking place on the street, public places and events, stadiums, public gatherings, etc.

It is not known whether Quinn will sign the measure. However, even if the Governor does sign the legislation, it will still be legal for people in Illinois to record communications with on-duty police officers, as long as they do not hinder the officers’ capacity to do his or her job.

As technology changes, this law and many others like it are a work in progress.

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