Thursday, September 19, 2013

Illinois 'legislative reform' package is more than just term limits

The Illinois 8-year term limits initiative intended for the November 2014 ballot is a package of reforms, yet all the attention will be paid to its centerpiece. Indeed, it is the 8-year term limits that will offer the most profound changes to the way Springfield works -- or doesn't work.

But what of the other elements? Are they legit? Is there a surprise inside? Color me cynical, but there are politicians in the room!

Reviewing the amendment here, it is clear there are no hidden trap doors or bended mirrors. Each element complements the term limits plank in an attempt to make the Illinois legislature more simple, flexible and representative. And, like the term limits, most of the ideas have been tested in other states.

THREE HOUSE SEATS PER SENATE DISTRICT -- This amendment would divide the Senate districts into three House seats instead of the current two so that an incumbent house member would be limited to one third instead of one half of the Senate District in terms of name recognition. This is another shift in power from incumbents to outsiders. That is, to citizens.

CHANGES IN CHAMBER MEMBERSHIP -- To accommodate the plank above, this amendment changes the number of members in each chamber. The House will expand from 118 to 123 members and the Senate will shrink from 59 to 41. A secondary benefit of this is that the House is the more representative of the two chambers, or at least it will be once the term limits kick in. It has shorter terms, more elections and smaller districts where one citizen can have more influence. On a net basis, the membership changes reduce the overall number of members and saves some money.

VETO POWER -- In Illinois it is unusually easy for the legislature to overturn a veto by the governor, requiring only a 3/5 vote. Under this amendment, the requirement would be 2/3 as it is in 36 other states.

NO MORE 2-YEAR SENATE TERMS -- This one is a simple housekeeping item. It abolishes the odd two-years term in the Senate that somewhat complicates the election process, encourages political gaming and confuses voters. In the future, all Senate terms will be four years as in most other states.

TERM LIMITS -- The crown of the amendment is, of course, the eight-year term limits. Eight years is the most common and time-tested term limit in America from the U.S. President and numerous state governors to nearly a dozen state legislatures and an uncountable number of county commissions, mayors and city councils.

This is a well-constructed package that makes both large and small tweaks to the structure and process of the legislature to push it in a more representative direction.

We need 300,000 signatures to put the question in the voters' hands. Let's get to work.