Illinois legislative Putback Amendment would mean real reform


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Posted Online: Oct. 04, 2009, 12:00 am
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John Bambenek
Many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief when Rod. Blagojevich was finally removed from office. The reality is the corruption, dysfunction and nonsense of Springfield has persisted long after he"s been gone. Budgets passed months late, legislation that no one has read, legislative gridlock and political gamesmanship are still the rule in Springfield. Why is Springfield so dysfunctional and corrupt? More importantly, what can the average citizen do to cleanup Springfield?

It is clear that the Illinois General Assembly is part of the problem. That is why the Putback Amendment was conceived. This amendment is a comprehensive package of reforms designed to make Illinois Legislature accountable to the voters. This is a citizen-initiated amendment to the state constitution. It requires no legislative approval. It is subject to no gubernatorial veto. If we get 500,000 signatures it will be listed on the ballot in November 2010.

There is a narrow provision in the State Constitution in Article 14 that allows for such amendments. The stated intent behind this provision was to allow the people the ability to reform the Legislature because the Legislature cannot be trusted to reform itself. One only has to look at the recent legislative session where the few reforms that did make it out of Springfield were so laden with hole they made the problems worse.

So what does the Putback Amendment do? It enacts term limits so no legislator can serve more than eight years and no one can serve as a legislative leader for more than four years. The legislature is a part-time job. Legislators can serve for eight years and then find another job. It returns the Legislature to three-member districts with cumulative voting in a unicameral body.

The amendment requires seven-day public viewing of legislation in its final form before it becomes law. Right now the important legislation, like the state budget, is drafted behind closed doors. The rank-and-file legislator then gets hundreds of pages of legislation on his desk the morning that he has vote on that afternoon. The legislator cannot read them, nor can the media or the public cannot read them. The amendment also allows 25 legislators to force any bill to get an up or down vote so legislative leaders cannot unilaterally kill bills.

The amendment equalizes ballot access. Our election code has been ruled unconstitutional repeatedly by federal judges because it is designed to keep outsiders off the ballot so party insiders can control who you get to choose from on Election Day. What good is the right to vote if you don"t have any choice?

It reforms the redistricting process to end gerrymandering. Right now politicians pick their voters; voters do not pick their politicians. This will open the process up so every interested citizen can participate in the map drawing process, and more importantly, any aggrieved party can go to court to sue based on abuses of redistricting.

This amendment has been called radical. What is radical about term limits? If it"s good enough for the President, its good enough for the General Assembly. What is radical about equal ballot access for anybody who"s qualified to run for office? What is radical about letting legislators and the public read legislation before it is law? What is radical about not allowing a legislative leader to unilaterally kill legislation no matter how much support it has on the floor?

These are commonsense reforms and they will never happen if you rely on the Legislature to pass them for you. If this amendment can get 500,000 signatures, it will be on the ballot next November. The power to reform the Illinois legislature is in the hands of the people and we can do something about the dysfunction in Springfield and put an end to it permanently. It is time to put the voters back in charge of Springfield and end the era of backroom politics that has run Illinois into the ground.

(To find out more information about the Putback Amendment, visit http://www.putbackamendment.com.)

John Bambenek is the principal author of the Putback Amendment and he can be reached at jcb@illinoiscitizenscoalition.com or on the web at http://twitter.com/bambenek
















 



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