Illinois House speaker term limits and other changes OK'd in party line split

  • Illinois House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, a Hillside Democrat, looks out over the House floor Wednesday at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

    Illinois House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, a Hillside Democrat, looks out over the House floor Wednesday at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

 
 
Updated 2/10/2021 8:22 PM

Suburban lawmakers split along party lines Wednesday in a contentious debate that eventually saw the approval of term limits for Illinois House leadership and other new rules.

Democrats said the new rules for how the House conducts business are a historic first step in changing the state's political culture under the leadership of Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, the Democrat from Hillside who last month replaced 35-year Speaker Michael Madigan.

 

Republicans said the new rules represent "no meaningful change at all."

The rules set a new 10-year limit for House speaker and minority leader, allow for remote committee voting and prevent bills from stalling in the Rules Committee for years, as critics say happened under Madigan's reign.

Left out were changes that would have curtailed the use of "shell" bills, non-substantive bills filed by deadline that later are amended for last-minute approval of things as major as the state budget.

Rep. Mark Batinek, a Republican from Plainfield, said Republicans were excluded. Democrats were treating Republicans like "mushrooms" keeping them "in the dark," he said from the House floor.

"In terms of transparency for the public, we are spinning our wheels. We're doing the same thing we've always done," Batinek said.

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House rule changes, including term limits for leadership, have long been sought by members of both parties, and Democrats said Republicans contributed their ideas.

"These rules include structural changes that many members of this body, including House Republicans, have called for," said Democratic Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz of Glenview. "Legislative leaders will be term-limited in their leadership positions to no more than 10-years in total and bills will not languish in (the) Rules (Committee)."

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs painted the new rules as designed to retain as much power as possible for Democrats, who have a supermajority in the House.

"I can't really say we're there for a new day because there is really not that much greater transparency or member involvement in these rules," Durkin said.

Democratic Rep. Daniel Didech of Buffalo Grove said critical GOP comments "ring hollow" given that the new rules incorporated "basically everything they asked for."

"(Leader Durkin) is not paying attention. These are very clearly very positive reforms, it's what he was asking for," Didech said. "I think his concerns are very politically motivated ... When there is not much to criticize they make up things to criticize and that's what they're doing."

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