Reform groups move ahead with amendments
Two public petitions to amend the Illinois Constitution to limit the power and incumbency of the General Assembly are being filed to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
A political action committee chaired by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner filed a petition Wednesday for an amendment to impose term limits on General Assembly members and make other changes to the body. Another group will deliver its signatures Thursday afternoon for an amendment to take the power to redraw legislative district maps after each U.S. Census from state lawmakers.
Both groups say they have more than enough signatures to ensure their proposed amendments get on the ballot and survive challenges by legislative foot soldiers. Rauner's group, Term Limits and Reform, filed more than 590,000 signatures with the Illinois State Board of Elections, almost twice the twice the number needed. Yes For Independent Maps, which will file the redistricting amendment, says it has more than 500,000 signatures.
But both amendments could be challenged before the Illinois Supreme Court, which 20 years ago struck down a proposed term limits amendment.
"All these reforms, especially term limits, will go a long way toward changing the insider culture of Springfield and send a message that power belongs in the hands of the people, not the career politicians and special interests," Rauner said in a statement.
The proposed amendment limits House and Senate members to serving no more than eight years. It also restructures the General Assembly by lowering the number of Senate districts from 59 to 41. Each district would have three House representatives, slightly increasing its size from 118 to 123. The changes would take effect in 2023, which would start the term-limit clock ticking in 2015.
Another change in the amendment would bring Illinois in line with most other states by increasing the number of votes needed to override a gubernatorial veto from three-fifths to two-thirds.
The diverse changes likely are a measure aimed at improving the odds that the amendment survives a court challenge because it not only imposes term limits, but also alters how the General Assembly operates. The Illinois Supreme Court threw a 1994 citizen initiative for term limits off the ballot after ruling that simply limiting terms did not comply with a provision in the Constitution restricting what citizens can petition to change to the General Assembly's "structure and procedures."
The amendment does not impose term limits on the governorship and the five other statewide offices because citizen petitions can only offer amendments to the section of the Constitution dealing with the General Assembly. A Republican-led effort in the Senate to put such an amendment on the ballot died Tuesday in committee.
Polls have shown that Illinois residents overwhelmingly favor term limits. An April 7 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University put support for legislative term limits at almost 80 percent, versus 17 percent opposed and 3.4 percent unsure. The numbers are even stronger for limiting the amount of time that lawmakers can serve in leadership roles such as House speaker and Senate president.
Fifteen states impose term limits on state legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states had term limits at one time that have since been repealed – two by the legislatures themselves and four by their respective state supreme courts. In all four cases, the courts objected to the method by which the limits were imposed, not on the merits of the law itself.
The Yes For Independent Maps amendment seeks to reform a redistricting process long derided by critics who allege that the system in Illinois allows lawmakers to choose their voters.
The proposed 1,500-word amendment puts the job of redrawing House and Senate boundaries after each decennial U.S. Census in the hands of an 11-member commission appointed by a three-member panel selected from random applications submitted to the state auditor general. The commission, which must deliberate in public, would be forbidden from drawing boundaries that split local units of government, ethnic or linguistic groups, or discriminate against political parties. A majority vote by the commission to approve the maps must include at least two affirmative votes each from Democratic, Republican and independent members.
The amendment only applies to General Assembly districts – state lawmakers would still have the power to draw the boundaries of the state's Congressional districts.
Thirteen states put the job of redistricting in the hands of independent commissions, and two other states have a commission that serve in an advisory role to state lawmakers. In Iowa, long held up as an example of proper redistricting, an independent government agency is in charge of drawing the maps, and is forbidden from taking lawmakers' home addresses into account.
Illinois is one of five states that puts redistricting in the hands of a commission if lawmakers fail to meet the filing deadline.
Voters could end up weighing in on four proposed constitutional amendments in November if both citizen initiatives pass legal muster. State lawmakers earlier this month put two amendments – protecting voting rights and strengthening the 1992 victims' rights amendment – on the ballot. An effort by lawmakers to put an amendment on the ballot replacing the flat income tax with a "progressive" one based on income fizzled because it did not have the three-fifths majority in the House needed to pass.
The Constitution limit to no more than three proposed amendments on the ballot applies only to those proposed by the General Assembly.
Amendments pass if they are approved by either three-fifths of those voting on it, or the majority of those voting in that election.