You just couldn’t escape them.
People who read and watched the news around the start of the new year were bound to see stories about all sorts of new laws – more than 200 of them – that the Illinois General Assembly approved in 2017, and that took effect Jan. 1.
One of the new laws deems pets as marital assets, so a judge can rule who gets a couple’s dog or cat if the divorcing parties can’t decide.
There’s another new law that prevents preschools and other early childhood programs from expelling children.
One law designates more money to deal with feral cats. Other new laws name corn as the state grain and cycling as the official state exercise.
Laws that crack down on hate crimes, expand taxpayer funding for abortion, and name Aug. 4 as Barack Obama Day in Illinois also took effect.
The measures were seen as important by their sponsors and supporters. We get that.
But many important proposals to reform state government and help pull Illinois out of its funk have not been passed in Springfield and therefore have not taken effect.
Here are some of them:
1) Pension funding reform. Illinois owes $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. That’s $130 BILLION. Among House and Senate members in Springfield, however, there’s been no action.
2) A balanced budget. The Illinois Constitution mandates that state spending not exceed revenues. Even so, lawmakers haven’t passed a balanced budget in years.
3) Laws to encourage retention of Illinois residents. Have you seen lawmakers address this worrisome trend? Our state’s shrinking population recently slipped to sixth place in the nation, behind Pennsylvania. But in the Legislature, no action.
4) Redistricting reform. It is sorely needed to ban gerrymandering of election districts and make elections for the Legislature and U.S. House more competitive. No action taken.
5) Open primaries. Voters should not have to declare their party preference publicly at the polls, but in Illinois, they must, which many believe suppresses primary turnout. No action.
6) Shortening the state’s campaign season by moving Illinois’ primary from March to September. Former Senate President Phil Rock, who died 2 years ago, favored that move. But his successors in the Illinois House and Senate won’t act.
7) Campaign finance reform. There’s also been no action on this one. Now, state residents are girding themselves for a possible battle of the financial titans if gazillionaires Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker find themselves squaring off for the governor’s mansion.
And that’s just for starters. Other needed reforms that the Illinois Legislature has neglected to enact were pointed out previously in the excellent 2014 book, “Fixing Illinois,” by Jim Nowlan and Tom Johnson. Those areas include budgeting, education, human services, health care, economic development, transportation, re-engineering government, and discouraging public corruption.
Yes, legislators can amuse themselves by passing hundreds of laws, but as long as they disregard the state’s major problems, their service to their constituents is, at best, inadequate.
And from that disappointing record, there’s no escape.
– Putnam County Record Editorial Board