Friday, October 14, 2011

Speaker won’t be silenced. Should he?

I remember a moment from the mid-1990s in the Illinois House of Representatives when that chamber wound up dumping all over a measure desired by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and then-Gov. Jim Edgar.

If memory serves, it related to Meigs Field. But it really doesn’t matter. Because what is memorable is the little speech that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, gave to justify his actions.

HE WAS UPSET that he and his staff were not included in the negotiation process. “It is not wise to exclude the speaker of the House,” in such circumstances, he said back then.

Now, a decade-and-a-half later, we have evidence that some things don’t really change.

For Madigan is threatening strong-arm tactics to thwart Gov. Pat Quinn’s attempt to end the long-time legislative perk that allows General Assembly members to grant full tuition waivers to prospective college students as they see fit.

The General Assembly this spring passed a bill meant to give the impression of reforming that perk – legislators would no longer be able to grant tuition waivers to relatives.

BUT QUINN, IN considering that bill, used his amendatory veto power that allows him to make some alterations to a measure.

He altered the bill to turn it into a flat-out ban on the perk. No more waivers. We’ve had too many tales of legislators giving them to kids of politically-connected people or for reasons that were totally meant to benefit the political standing of the government official – rather than the high-minded rhetoric of helping young people be able to attend college.

That has Madigan upset. He says it oversteps the boundaries of what is an amendatory veto. He also claims he’s not going to dignify Quinn’s action with a legislative response.

Which is a problem.

BECAUSE THE GENERAL Assembly is supposed to react to every single bill that Quinn either vetoed or amendatorily vetoed during the summer months.

If they can get a 60 percent majority in both the Illinois House and state Senate, they can override the governor and make the bill law in the form they approved it. If they can’t, they accept the governor’s changes (or rejection, in the case of a veto).

But if nothing happens? Then it is one of those quirks. Since nothing happens, nothing will happen. The bill will just wither away and die like it never occurred.

And the legislative perk will remain in place just as it has every year since 1905.

I MUST ADMIT to siding with Quinn on this particular issue, although I don’t expect him to prevail in this particular political fight and will be shocked if there ever is any significant change in the tuition waiver perk.

Madigan aides are telling reporter types that that Illinois Constitution very strictly limits what kinds of changes can be made with the amendatory veto power. It usually gets defined as that a governor can delete things from a bill, but cannot add them.

So Madigan is portraying himself as the man who is standing up for the letter of the law in that document that ought to be most sacred to us, the state Constitution (which Madigan himself helped to craft as he was a part of that last Constitutional Convention back in 1970).

I suppose one could argue that Quinn did exactly that. He took a bill related to the legislative tuition perk and deleted something – he deleted the perk altogether.

WHICH MAY SOUND like a sarcastic way of viewing the issue. But when one considers the convoluted lines of logic that political people often use to justify their actions, this one comes across as one of the most straight-forward you’ll ever hear.

I remember back to the mid-1990s again, when one year a bill was pending that included provisions related to sex offenders having to report their whereabouts and money for a special state fund that helped to repair leaking underground storage tanks.

How do those two issues possibly qualify to be in one bill, since bills are supposed to be about a single issue? They said with a straight face that both issues were about “protecting public safety.”
Which is what led to a springtime’s worth of bad jokes about sex offenders and the LUST fund bill. Even all these years later, I still think, “Ugh!” in response.

NOW, THE BIG fight come the fall veto session (Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 8-10) will be over the tuition waiver perk. Or, whether there will be a fight at all.

Because I’m pretty sure Quinn can’t force Madigan to call this measure up for a vote – which would let the legislators decide for themselves what should happen. Not that I would expect them to take a noble act – I’m sure many of them don’t want this perk tampered with, no matter how much bad press their colleagues create because of it.

It’s just kind of sad that the highlight (lowlight?) of the veto session is going to be for something where the General Assembly does nothing.


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