Brian's Column 12-12-2014

This week I’d like to discuss a few more bills that were passed in veto session this year; I voted for neither of them, and I’m concerned that the manner in which they were passed indicates shady politicking that will do nothing to help our state’s fiscal crisis or the taxpayer burden.

Senate Bill 3075 began as an amendment to the Juvenile Court Act of 1987.  The original text of SB3075 read that it provided “that a non-judicial probation adjustment plan includes any appropriate action with the concurrence of the school district where the minor resides.”  The bill was introduced in February of this year, made it through the Senate and to a second reading in the House before the end of spring session.  Nothing much happened to it throughout the summer and fall until suddenly on November 25, Representative Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) filed an amendment that deleted “everything after the enacting clause with” a whole new bill that amends Counties Code by changing juror pay to $25 for the first day and $50 for every day after.  The bill, which goes into effect June 1, 2015, also changes the number of jurors used for all civil trials from 12 to 6; additional fees will be charged if additional jurors are requested. 

The bill purportedly saves counties money by reducing jury size.  It seems like a win-win for all parties involved—jurors get paid more than three times what they used to be paid ($4 to $10 or so a day in most counties, plus mileage), and the counties save by having fewer jurors to pay. That’s the theory anyway.

But we all know there’s more to the story.  So here it is: only civil juries are cut in half.  Criminal juries remain at 12 jurors, and since a large percentage of trials are criminal, and since the $25 a day per juror is not limited to civil trials, counties will actually be increasing their spending on juries, to the tune of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, per county.  In Winnebago County alone, the budget for juries could increase by $250,000 to $300,000, and in Stephenson County and the other counties in the 89th District they will more than likely see the jury cost more than double the amount which was budgeted.  And sadly for all counties, their budgets have already been adopted.  Because of political finagling, they’ll now have to go back to the drawing board to figure out where they’ll find that extra cash.  Don’t think this won’t affect you, the taxpayer.  Where do you think counties are going to find that money?

It seemed like veto session was, in reality, bludgeon-the-counties session.  Another bill that passed this December will pile more work on county clerks and create extra expenses for the counties. Senate Bill 175 began as a simple and very short bill to amend candidate nomination. It sat in the Senate for a year—the last action taken on it was November 18, 2013.  On November 19, 2014, the bill suddenly passed the Senate, arrived in the House where three amendments were added that changed the bill from a candidate nomination bill to a bill that allowed same-day voter registration. The bill was hurried through the House and passed on December 3.  Later the same day, the Senate approved the amendments and passed the bill.  The bill now amends the Election Code by extending voter registration to same-day registration, by contracting with the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a multi-state voter registration data-sharing cooperative, to keep more accurate records of voter registration data, and by using the National Change of Address (NCOA) service to remind voters to change their voter registration if their address changes.

Again, in theory, this is a good bill.  Same-day registration will encourage voters who forgot to register to still vote, and I am all for getting the vote out.  ERIC will streamline data records, and perhaps help weed out dead registrants and people who have moved out of state, and NCOA will help determine if a voter has moved and needs to update his/her voter registration.

But, again, there’s more to the story.  The bill creates extra headaches for county clerks by requiring them to be open for voter registration, even on Sunday.  And yes, that means taxpayer dollars to pay the clerk and staff weekend pay and to fund overhead costs to have the office open on weekends, including the manpower costs for courthouse security.  The clerks will also have to keep track of voters who register the day of the election at each precinct and make sure voter fraud isn’t occurring. The mandates in the bill are unfunded, so county clerks will again have to find somewhere to come up with money to pay for the extra burdens.

The nature of how both these bills were passed seems a little fishy to me.  It’s time for the legislators in our state to forget about party politics and to sincerely consider what is best for the state.  We are seeing in our state what President George Washington described as “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities.” This alternate domination of one faction over another, Washington says, will eventually lead “to a more formal and permanent despotism.”  Partisan politics got our state into its current mess, and there’s fault on both sides, so to fix it, both sides need to come together and work to create a government environment that fosters a respect for what the people need, not what the politicians want.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or email us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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