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Illinois House kicks off busy lame duck session

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois House of Representatives spent less than 30 minutes on the floor for the first day of lame duck session. Members quickly met with their caucuses. But, lawmakers held plenty of discussions behind the scenes.

Shortly after gaveling in, one member addressed the elephant in the room – a lack of transparency for the public.

“Let me just say this, there’s another area of checks and balances that’s between the legislative body and the public. The group that is in the proper place to make sure that our public is aware of what we’re doing, it’s our press corps,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs).

Durkin asked Speaker Mike Madigan to allow more than five reporters into the Bank of Springfield Center’s arena for session. However, House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago) never responded to his request.

Short period to review bills

Meanwhile, lawmakers are preparing to discuss large proposals from the Legislative Black Caucus addressing education, healthcare, economic access, and criminal justice reform. Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) feels the caucus should have given lawmakers more time to analyze their plans.

“All of these bills that have been brought forward by the Black Caucus were kept very close to the vest. In fact, one of the sponsors said, ‘We don’t want the information to get out because then people will pick the bills apart.’ Part of my job here as a legislator is to pick a bill apart,” Bryant emphasized.

Bryant mentioned she supports some portions of the massive proposals, but she stressed there’s too many provisions that don’t make sense for communities outside of Cook County.

Freezing new business tax breaks

Gov. JB Pritzker also surprised some representatives by announcing he hopes to save over $500 million by not implementing new business tax credit laws approved by Congress. Pritzker said the state can’t afford to expand tax breaks to businesses that already receive them.

“Unfortunately, COVID also hit our state budget, requiring tough choices about what we can and cannot afford,” Pritzker stated. “As we recover from the pandemic, we must focus on job creation and balancing our state budget. I am confident in our ability to grow our economy and put our state on firmer fiscal footing.”

Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville) stressed Pritzker will need legislative approval before making such a major decision.

“The governor needs to open a dialogue with the legislature about providing relief for these businesses instead of prioritizing the state’s bottom line and taking away this bipartisan piece of relief that Congress decided was a good idea,” Bourne said.

Time for ethics reform?

Caucus members are also concerned the Democratic majority may not address ethics reform during lame duck session. The Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform spent the first months of the 2020 session hearing suggestions. Members were tasked with submitting a report of proposals to the General Assembly in March. The commission never submitted that report and the group likely won’t meet again before the end of the week. That’s why Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) filed an ethics package of his own with many of the ideas the commission addressed.

“The major issue we have is our state has a need for ethics reform,” Windhorst said. “If we do not fix the ethical problems we see in state government, we won’t be able to address other problems that are causing people to flee the state by the tens of thousands.”

Windhorst said he will refile his proposal for the 102nd General Assembly if Democratic leaders don’t assign it to a committee for discussion.

Several House committees will meet Saturday morning before session reconvenes at 12:30 p.m. Meanwhile, the Senate will have an Executive committee hearing at 1:00 p.m. The entire chamber will convene to begin their lame duck session on Sunday.

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Mike Miletich

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