Friday, February 10 marked the 2023 bill filing deadline in Springfield, and at the end of the day there were 2,442 Senate Bills and 2,000 House Bills filed. Almost all are bills of substance seeking a legislative change. About a dozen of these bills are mine, and they address a variety of issues that those living in Northwest Illinois have said are important to them, like protecting Second Amendment rights for lawful gun owners, supporting law enforcement officers, and strengthening the state’s ethics laws.
In theory, every bill of substance would be assigned to committees for hearings, and each measure would receive an up or down vote at that level. Those receiving successful votes would then move forward for full consideration on the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives.
But that’s not how it works in Illinois. Written into the Senate and House Rules is a provision that requires every bill to first be assigned to the Senate Assignments or House Rules Committee. The make-up of these committees reflects the membership of the Senate and House, which means they are comprised 2/3 of Democrats and 1/3 of Republicans. Many believe these are the most influential committees in the General Assembly, because these are the people who decide which bills will advance to a committee for a hearing, and which bills will die due to inaction. With Democrats controlling the initial vetting committees, a disproportionate number of Democratic bills versus Republican bills reach the committee level each year. That’s just the way it is.
There are 40 Democrats and 19 Republicans representing the 59 individual Senate Districts in the 103rd General Assembly. Because 30 votes are required for a bill’s passage, Republicans must receive bipartisan support on any bill that eventually becomes a law. If all 19 Republicans support a Senate Republican initiative, we must reach across the aisle and find 11 Democrats who are also willing to support our bill. Bipartisan support is not as elusive as many think. The vast majority of bills passed in Springfield have bipartisan support.
As bills move through the legislative process, there are important ways you can make sure your voice is heard. The website www.ilga.gov is a valuable site that provides access to nearly every aspect of the legislative process. I encourage all Illinoisans who have an interest in their state government to familiarize themselves with this website.
If a bill you favor or oppose has been filed, you can follow its progress on www.ilga.gov. You can plug in the bill number on the home page, click “Go,” and view the “last action.” If the bill has been in the Assignments Committee or Rules Committee for more than a few weeks, chances are the bill is being blocked. In the Senate section of www.ilga.gov, you can look under the Committees tab, click on “Assignments,” and look at the names of the legislators who are serving on the committee. By clicking on their names, you are taken to a page with their contact information, at which point you can make a call and ask that the bill be released and assigned to a committee.
Once a bill is assigned to a committee for a hearing, a powerful portal opens. Through the “witness slip” portal you can have your official opinion as a proponent or opponent of a bill entered into the official record. This portal provides the most meaningful opportunity for everyday Illinoisans to weigh in on legislation. For some hot-button issues, there have been instances where tens of thousands of witness slips have been filed.
The process for filing a witness slip is easy. I have a “how to” video posted as a Quick Link on the bottom of the homepage of my website (www.SenatorChesney.com). This is your state government, and you have a right to have your opinions heard. And as your legislative voice in the Senate, I will continue to work toward an improved system where all substantive bills are given an opportunity to be heard.