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posted: 2/9/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Let the movement to end lame-duck voting begin

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It is pretty clear that the temporary increase in the Illinois income tax would not have passed in 2011 had it not been for lame-duck voting.

Some of the votes that put the measure across were cast by legislators who left office the next day. Some of the votes were cast by legislators who, coincidentally enough, were later appointed to highly paid jobs on the state payroll.

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"This practice," says state Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein, "is cynical, purely political and wrong."

We wholeheartedly agree and have said so repeatedly.

Lately, a spate of referendums to amend the state constitution have been promoted to change the way business is done in Illinois. There's a movement for a referendum question that would seek to clean up the way legislative maps are drawn. There's another movement to get a referendum on the ballot asking whether to impose term limits on those elected to state office.

And as of last week, there is a bill in Springfield that would try to get a referendum on the ballot asking voters to do away with lame-duck voting -- that is, legislative action that takes place in the weeks between the time an election takes place and the newly elected officials are sworn in.

The measure, being pushed by Republicans, would promote a referendum asking voters to move the date of the state inauguration from the second Wednesday in January to the second Wednesday in December,

While that would reduce the lame-duck period, it wouldn't eliminate it. There'd still be more than a month between Election Day and inauguration day.

But the amendment also would put added restrictions on any special sessions to be held in that period. Legislative leaders of both parties as well as the governor would have to agree to a special session in order for it to be held, and the purpose of the sessions would be limited to much narrower topics.

Is this measure going to be approved in the General Assembly? It's not likely even to get out of committee.

But every movement has to start somewhere, and this is a movement worth starting.

Meanwhile, let's be clear on the reasons lame-duck voting ought to be abolished.

In promoting the end of it, state Rep. Renee Kosel told the Joliet Herald-News that legislation brought up in lame-duck sessions is "garbage legislation that would not pass any other time."

It is true that it is legislation that very often would not pass any other time. But that doesn't make it garbage. Controversial? Almost always. But garbage? No.

Some of the most significant legislation of the day ends up getting handled in these sessions. In Congress, the 13th Amendment that ended slavery was passed in a lame-duck session. And in Illinois, there have been significant measures to allow civil unions, end the death penalty and ban indoor smoking.

Those are landmark measures. All controversial. Some great achievements.

But all would have been nobler achievements, would've rallied more public support, had they been adopted in the light of day.

The greatest threat to Illinois isn't, in the end, one issue or one individual cause. The greatest threat is the corruption that pervades our practice of democracy.

You can't oppose corruption and then embrace lame-duck voting. No matter how important the legislation may be.

Uphold integrity. End lame-duck governance.

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