Senate Week in Review: January 5 – 9, 2015

Springfield, Ill. – On the eve of a new biennial General Assembly, lawmakers returned to the Capitol Jan. 8 for a “Special Session,” only to see politics win over good governance, said State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).

Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan muscled through legislation to force a special election in 2016 to fill the vacancy in the Comptroller’s Office left by Judy Baar Topinka’s tragic passing. Republicans argued the 11th-hour vote for the special election represented an unfortunate power grab by Democrats that directly contradicts the state Constitution, which gives Governor-elect Bruce Rauner the responsibility to fill the Comptroller vacancy on Jan. 12 for a term of four years.

They advocated instead for a vote on a Constitutional Amendment—either one that would merge the Comptroller’s office with the Treasurer’s office, an idea Topinka had advocated for, or a Constitutional Amendment that would allow voters to choose whether or not to alter the state Constitution to allow for a special election for unexpired terms. However, Democrat leaders did not call either of the Constitutional Amendments for a vote.

Also during the week, Governor-Elect Rauner announced his Comptroller appointee on Jan. 5, and a joint panel of the General Assembly heard troubling testimony about the state’s woeful care of juvenile state wards.

Special election ‘muscled’ through

Senate and House Democrats used their legislative majorities to advance legislation (House Bill 4576) establishing a 2016 special election for the unexpired term of the late Judy Baar Topinka, despite objections of Senate Republicans.

The legislation was introduced following the death of Topinka, who was recently re-elected to serve as Comptroller. Though the Illinois Constitution designates Governor-elect Rauner is responsible for appointing a replacement to serve the entire four-year term of office, the Democrat-controlled Senate and House moved legislation Jan. 8 setting up a 2016 special election in time for out-going Governor Pat Quinn to sign the measure into law before he leaves office.

Senate Republican lawmakers labeled House Bill 4576 an unfortunate power grab by Democrats seeking an opportunity to snag the office in 2016. Not only does the legislation contradict the Illinois Constitution, Senate Republicans pointed out the Democrats’ proposal is contrary to the intent of the 1970 Constitutional Convention. The Constitutional Convention sought to ensure that the election of statewide executive branch officers is to be held in non-Presidential years in order to maintain focus on state issues.

House Bill 4576 lays out the special election process going forward if other vacancies are created in the offices of Illinois Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller and Treasurer. The legislation deals with unexpired terms that have more than 28 months left in them. If an unexpired term is less than 28 months in duration, then the vacancy would be subject to the traditional gubernatorial appointment process laid out in the Illinois Constitution.

However, Senate Republicans argued that because the Illinois Constitution is clear that Executive officers hold their office for four-year terms, a special election cannot be established by simply passing a bill. Instead, it should be done the right way—by changing the state Constitution. Legislation (Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 22) had been introduced that would allow the voters to decide whether or not to implement a special election for unexpired terms by modifying the Illinois Constitution; however, Democrats did not allow it to advance.

‘Judy’s Amendment’ to merge Comptroller and Treasurer dashed

Another alternative pushed by Republicans would be to hold a special election in 2016 to vote on a Constitutional Amendment to merge the Comptroller’s office with the Treasurer’s office. The legislation has been coined “Judy’s Amendment,” because Topinka had advocated in favor of combining the two statewide constitutional offices.  Though Deputy Republican Leader Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) revived their 2013 legislative efforts to merge the offices, and their Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 11 was discussed in the Senate Executive Committee on Jan. 8, their legislation was not called for a vote.

Senator Murphy and his Republican colleagues pledged to renew their bipartisan efforts to merge the two offices after the Inauguration of the 99th General Assembly on Jan. 14. SJRCA 11 would save taxpayers $12 million a year by merging the offices. 

The Comptroller keeps the state’s “checkbook” and is in charge of paying bills. The Treasurer’s office is responsible for making investments with public funds and protecting the state’s investment portfolio from possible market fluctuations.

Comptroller-designee Munger

On Jan. 5, Governor-elect Rauner announced his pick to fill the vacancy in the office of the Comptroller. Leslie Munger of Lincolnshire will succeed the current temporary appointee on Jan. 12, when Illinois’ new constitutional officers take their oath of office.

Munger is a former corporate executive at Illinois-based Helene Curtis/Unilever. She holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business and a B.S. from the University of Illinois.  Munger is a very active member of her Lake County community and is currently involved with several charities that specialize in adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is married and has two sons.

Troubled DCFS agency limps along

On Jan. 7 a joint panel of the Senate and House of Representatives met to hear nearly five hours of testimony based on a series of troubling stories called “Harsh Treatment” by the Chicago Tribune.

The hearing focused on the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which will likely be subject to intense scrutiny when Governor-elect Rauner takes office. The Tribune series exposed terrible deficiencies in the state’s foster care program and revealed massive under-reporting of mentally-troubled youth who were subject to state care.

The Tribune’s investigative series found hundreds of cases of neglect, physical and sexual abuse at some of the state’s more than 50 residential facilities. Additionally, thousands of runaways went unaccounted for during the investigative period of 2011-2013. DCFS saw seven different leadership changes during the past three years and the stinging series is clearly another black mark on Pat Quinn’s six years as Governor.

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