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Illinois Republicans introduce ‘Voter Empowerment Project’

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Republican leaders in both chambers want Illinois voters to have more power in the legislative process. They hope their Democratic colleagues will help pass a package of resolutions to allow residents to amend the state’s constitution. Senate and House GOP members call this a “voter empowerment project.”

In short, Republicans want to give residents more opportunities to repeal unpopular laws and remove corrupt politicians. The leaders feel these ideas could bring checks and balances back to state government following decades under one man’s rules.

“Any issue that we’ve tried to pass out of the General Assembly for purposes of a constitutional amendment has been blocked by one person,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs).

With Rep. Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) out of House leadership, Republicans hope Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) will give their proposals a fair shot.

The first joint resolution could help voters make significant changes to portions of the Illinois constitution, such as redistricting. The constitution currently limits citizen initiatives for amendments to structural and procedural subjects under Article IV. Sponsors hope to strike that language from the document. Yet, they would specifically explain citizens cannot modify or repeal any portion of the state’s Bill of Rights.

Referendums on legislation

The second proposal would allow residents to create referendums on new laws people may oppose. Sponsors explained nearly half of the states allow voters to start up-or-down referendums for controversial legislation. To put a referendum on the ballot, citizens would have 90 days to collect signatures equal to five percent of votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election.

“The vast majority of the public says, ‘You know what? We don’t like that,” said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods). “They would, under this proposal, have the ability to go out, collect petition signatures, put a measure on the ballot that then would repeal that law.”

Recalling public officials

Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) also hopes to give voters the ability to recall state and local officials. Their plan would tweak existing constitutional guidelines that only allow for the recall of the governor. It could also eliminate the requirement that recall efforts need bipartisan support from 20 representatives and 10 senators. Petitioners would need signatures from at least 12% of the number of votes cast for governor in the previous election.

“The people who sign the petition to initiate a recall process must live within the district of which they are attempting to recall someone,” Barickman added.

He also said people voting on the referendum must live in the district of the lawmaker under recall consideration. Under the amendment, residents could recall executive officers and legislative leaders like the Senate President and Speaker of the House. Anyone recalled would be ineligible to serve in their position for 10 years.

House Sponsor Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) says this could be “preventative medicine” for bad actors still in office.

“If somebody knows that there’s the ability for them to be recalled, I think they’re gonna act a little bit better and maybe do the right thing on their own,” Batinick said.

The Republicans hope Democratic leaders will allow committee debates on the proposals. The full General Assembly won’t return to Springfield until March. However, the Senate plans on holding virtual hearings throughout February. Representatives could approve remote legislating during a vote on the new House rules next week.

“We think that it’s very important for us to be able to put power back into the hands of voters so that at the end of the day all of us work for them instead of the voters feeling like they work for the legislators,” McConchie said.

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Mike Miletich

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