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HomeIllinois NewsShaw: Illinois Constitution? What Constitution? Madigan’s Shell Bill Game

Shaw: Illinois Constitution? What Constitution? Madigan’s Shell Bill Game




By Jan Shaw - 

How did the Illinois General Assembly pass all those controversial bills in the final hours of the 2019 session? It's simple. Attribute their success to Speaker Madigan's shell bill skills in manipulating the Illinois Constitution.

The Illinois Constitution requires three readings and a vote in the House and three readings and a vote in the Senate to pass a bill that the governor then signs (or vetoes).  The intent is to allow time for public input and legislative debate. But that’s not how it happens in Illinois. In Illinois, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan is in charge. His “Team” is expected to rubber-stamp whatever he wants to become law.

For instance, the 2019/2020 budget started out as a two-page, shell bill. SB 262’s synopsis read “Appropriates $2 from the General Revenue Fund to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget for its FY 20 ordinary and contingent expenses.”  In other words it was a place holder that did virtually nothing.

SB 262 had its first Senate reading in January. Then it sat. On May 28th, it began its sprint to becoming law, with the second Senate reading. A third Senate reading and vote to pass the Senate was the next day on May 29th – still containing virtually nothing.

The House took the baton that same day with its first reading followed by its second reading the next day. Then the real action began.

Friday, May 31st, House Floor Amendment No.1 was filed, went to the Rules Committee, the Executive Committee, had co-sponsors added. It was read for the “third” time, “debated,” and passed in the House – all in one day. The following day the Senate voted to concur and it was sent to the Governor, who signed it a few days later. This two-page bill as amended is now 1,581 pages long. The public and the vast majority of the legislators have not had a chance to read it. And that is how a do-nothing shell bill became a $40 billion operating budget filled with Pork that we are still discovering. How is this legal?  It certainly is NOT in keeping with the Constitution’s intent.

There are also real bills that are treated like shell bills. Bills that legislators have worked hard on, that needed only one more vote to be sent to the governor. They can have a sudden transformation via an amendment that guts and replaces everything with new unrelated language.

During the same week that our legislature was working on the budget, HB 1438, “Pawn Brokers and Stolen Property” morphed into the “Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act”. And starting on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day, SB 25, MHDDC-Psychiatric Exam” became the “Reproductive Health Act” (i.e., extreme abortion) bill.

None of this is in keeping with the intent of the Illinois Constitution. But, that is how Madigan Rules.  

Jan Shaw is Vice-Chairman of the Illinois Conservative Union


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  1. I first heard about shell-bills in 2010. I now realize just how destructive they can be. And so, I am very disappointed in all the Republicans who voted for these. Even if they liked what was in the bill, they made this problem bi-partisan.