Lawlessness abounds in Illinois Senate
John O. Jones, state senator, 54th district
When players cheat in basketball, they are called for a foul. When players make illegal hits n hockey, they are put in the penalty box. In football, an infraction of the rules results in a loss of yards.
In the Illinois Senate, though, there are apparently no repercussions for breaking the rules. Instead, the rules are merely changed to accommodate the whims of the majority party. It was not exactly front-page news and there certainly was no public outcry to restore law and order to the Illinois Senate. But that does not negate the seriousness of what happened last week.
As the Senate considered bill after bill on the Senate floor, the Senate Democrat leadership made the decision to approve 247 legislative proposals on one roll call vote. They did not allow for questions to be asked on the intent behind the legislation. They did not allow for members to even vote on the bills separately. Instead, they asked all of us to vote on the bills with one vote.
The bills addressed topics ranging from airports to wineries. The legislative proposals lacked specific language, but they were introduced for specific purposes – purposes the sponsors never had an opportunity to explain. The actions taken last week were in direct violation of the Senate Rules. Senate Rule 7-14 states, “If the question in debate contains several points, any Senator may have the same divided.”
Now, I am not a lawyer, but this seems pretty clear to me:If there is a question before the Senate with many points, any Senator can divide the question. Well, there was a question before the Senate with 247 parts and one Senator asked to divide the question and consider each piece of legislation individually. But this request was ignored and one vote was taken for all 247 pieces of legislation.
On the surface, this appears as nothing more than an inconsequential procedural issue. After all, the votes were there for the legislation to pass regardless of how the vote was taken. Even if each of the 247 proposals were individually considered, they would have all passed.
But hidden in this procedural battle between Democrats and Republicans is a violation of a basic principle of representative government. Each Senator in the Illinois Senate represents a little more than 200,000 people. Those citizens send their Senator to Springfield to be their voice. The citizens of this state expect their Senators to be given an opportunity to voice opposition or support for a particular piece of legislation.
Denying a Senator the chance to speak on a bill and debate it properly essentially silences the only voice in the Illinois Senate that people living in that legislative district have. It does not matter if the outcome of legislation is a foregone conclusion. What matters is that the individuals elected to represent 210,000 Illinois residents have an opportunity to do their duty on behalf of their constituents.
The rule of law was violated in the Illinois Senate. The majority party broke their own rules and silenced the voice of thousands of Illinois residents for the sake of saving time. It seems like a small thing, but how can we expect the people of this state to respect and obey the laws the Senate approves when this chamber cannot even follow its own rules?
We expect athletes to follow the rules. We teach our children to follow the rules. It is not asking too much to expect the leaders of the Illinois Senate to also follow the rules. Lawlessness of any kind is not acceptable in a country governed by the rule of law.