It's almost May and lawmakers already are eyeing the end of their spring legislative session. For some legislative committees, though, the work has not even gotten started. Two House committees and one Senate committee were formed at the beginning of the year but have yet to meet.
It's almost May and lawmakers already are eyeing the end of their spring legislative session. For some legislative committees, though, the work has not even gotten started.
Two House committees and one Senate committee were formed at the beginning of the year but have yet to meet. The House committees don't even have members, while the Senate committee might not have anything to work on for a couple of years.
In the House, some lawmakers blame the delay on the long-running feud between House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Democrat from Collinsville and a staunch Blagojevich ally, has served as chairman of the Transportation & Motor Vehicles Committee since 1997. But he has yet to be renamed by the speaker as the committee's chairmen this year.
Without a chair or members, the committee is unable hold meetings or vote on legislation.
"It would obviously be a more effective way of proceeding to have a transportation committee meeting and active," Hoffman said.
In previous years, the committee handled legislation relating to transportation issues such as road conditions, speed limits, and traffic safety. But with the committee currently stuck in limbo, legislation relating to these topics is being sent to other committees.
Republican Rep. Bill Black of Danville, also a member of previous transportation committees, said the state needs an active transportation committee, especially now that legislators are pursuing a multi-million dollar capital construction program.
"Jay Hoffman, regardless of his relationship to the former governor, knows a lot about transportation issues so I'm not sure we're using him to our greatest advantage," he said.
Black said it is no secret that Madigan is punishing Hoffman for siding with Blagojevich.
"That's one way Speaker Madigan sends a message," Black said.
Madigan is also holding up the nomination of Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, as chairmen of the House Tourism and Conventions Committee. News reports indicated Dunkin, who often sided with the ex-governor, chose to vacation in the Caribbean when the House originally voted in January to impeach Blagojevich.
"Why has he not promoted Ken Dunkin, who is such the tourism authority in this chamber, who has promoted tourism throughout the centuries and the decades in the history of the state of Illinois? Why? Why, Mr. Speaker?" asked Dunkin.
Though it rarely dealt with legislation, the tourism committee did serve as a forum for members of the state's tourism industry to discuss their issues.
Rep. Suzanne Bassi, a Republican from Palatine, said the committee's inability to function this year has hurt Illinois tourism. She faulted Madigan for putting a personal conflict above the state's interests.
"I think this is a question of testosterone that should be lessened one way or another," Bassi said.
Madigan spokesman Michael Weir said the committee appointments are "under review" but would not say when or if they would be announced this year. He would not comment on whether Hoffman and Dunkin's relationship with Blagojevich was to blame for the delay.
Weir said the state is not harmed by having the two committees remain inactive.
In the other chamber, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has created the Senate Redistricting Committee in preparation for the 2011 redrawing of state's legislative districts. But its agenda is bare.
"We are not planning on taking up legislation this session, but we will probably conduct a subject matter hearing," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.
Illinois' redistricting process, in which the party that gets to draw the district maps is often picked by pulling a name out of a hat, has been criticized as being too political. One reform idea is to implement the system used by Iowa, where computers draw legislative maps instead of politicians.
Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, who chairs the Redistricting Committee, opposes an Iowa-style redistricting system because he believes it would not allow for a proper representation of minorities in the legislature. He agrees there's not much for the committee to do this year.
"I don't think we have to be in a rush to make a determination as to how we approach this issue," said Raoul.
Eric Naing can be reached at (217) 782-3095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.