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Illinois Policy Institute report: Legislative rules in Illinois give more power to its House speaker than virtually every other state in the nation

A new Illinois General Assembly will be sworn in next week, but when it comes to legislative business in Springfield the same old rules still apply. A new report released today by the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute takes a deep dive into legislative rules in all 50 states. The Institute found that virtually no state grants the types of powers to its legislative heads that Illinois grants to its House speaker.

The report is called “Madigan’s rules: How Illinois gives its House speaker power to manipulate and control the legislative process.” It found that Illinois’ legislative rules stand out when compared with the rules and legislative procedures in the other 49 states.

“Taken individually, Illinois’ legislative rules add to the speaker’s power in the House. Taken together, they give him power over it,” said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute. “Today, House Speaker Mike Madigan – and not the public or General Assembly – decides what becomes law. As it stands under current rules, no bill has a realistic chance of getting a vote if Madigan opposes it.”

The report found four of Illinois’ current legislative rules stack the deck in favor of the House speaker and the Democratic majority.

1. The Illinois House speaker has sole discretion to give and take away committee chair positions – and the generous stipends that come with them. Illinois is also 1 of only 9 states that offer compensation for all these positions. In Illinois, committee chair positions come with $10,000 stipends. This ensures lawmakers side with the leadership, rather than the constituents they were elected to represent.

2. The House speaker has the power to substitute committee members at will. This allows him to ensure he gets the votes he wants and to protect members from taking votes that are unpopular in their districts. In 2016, Illinois legislative committees made over 600 substitutions in committee meetings.

3. The House speaker controls when bills are called for a vote. The speaker can change “any order of business at any time,” which means that lawmakers often do not know when a particular bill will be heard, or if it will be heard at all. This also allows the speaker to ensure supporters of a particular measure are present for certain votes, and that opponents are kept in the dark or have little advance notice of a bill being discussed. Illinois is 1 of only 3 states found to have an explicit rule authorizing the presiding officer to skip from bill to bill with no advance notice.

4. The Illinois speaker decides which bills receive discussion and which are completely ignored or killed. Unlike other states, the Illinois House Rules Committee can sit on bills the speaker opposes to ensure they are never assigned to a substantive committee for consideration. Illinois is 1 of 9 states to require bills to go to Rules Committee before being assigned to another committee. Of the nine states that require bills to go to a rules committee first, only Maine, with no discharge procedure whatsoever, makes it more difficult to get a bill out of the committee. For this reason, a bill to establish term limits, an idea supported by 4 of 5 Illinoisans, will never see the light of day.

The report is available here: