Fall session: Deliberative or 'do-nothing'?
By MICHAEL D. KLEMENS
Assessing the 1989 fall "veto" session depends on your perspective. A number of hoped for initiatives failed. Lawmakers did not enact property tax relief. Most legislators did not even vote on efforts to restrict abortion.
For champions of abortion restrictions and property tax relief, the veto session was a disappointment; for opponents of the initiatives it was a success. The major piece of legislation that won approval, administrative reform of the workers' compensation system, had been ready for passage in the spring when it was stalled by a dispute over arbitration.
The fall session held the promise of fireworks and confrontation over the issue of abortion. The pro-life forces wanted to move a bill (H.B. 574) that they had placed in conference committee then tabled in the spring. They chose to pursue legislation that would bring Illinois to the standard set in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services and not to pursue legislation that would provide a new test case for the U.S. Supreme Court.
The members of the conference committee for H.B. 574 were exclusively pro-life. They convened a hearing and took testimony, pro and con, on a Webster clone. As drawn the law would have:
The showdown came on October 17 in the House Rules Committee. The pro-life forces needed a ruling from the committee that the measure was an emergency or important to the operations of government. Rep. Penny Pullen (R-55, Park Ridge), House sponsor, argued that abortion was at least as big an emergency as riverboat gambling, which the committee had already released. She said the full House should be allowed to vote: "There are actually individuals who are present in their mothers' wombs as we speak, whose lives will depend on the votes that are cast in this committee today."
Pro-choice forces argued for delay to allow the bill to go through formal hearings and the full legislative process. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-26, Chicago) charged that the measure was flawed: "The Supreme Court did say July 3 that a bill like this is constitutional, but the court didn't and couldn't say that a bill like this is sensible, is sound public policy."
Pullen and her pro-life supporters needed 10 votes from the 18-member committee to discharge the bill. They got nine and, unable to change any votes, abandoned their effort 10 days later. The vote spared the other 159 members of the General Assembly a vote on the measure until after the March primaries.
But both sides know that the battle over abortion has moved from the courts to state legislatures. To that end the Planned Parenthood Association had polling done in 19 Senate and House districts. (See "The Pulse" on page 30.) Respondents were asked whether they would vote to keep abortion legal or to make it illegal. In 18 of the 19 districts at least 60 percent said they would keep abortion legal, and no more than 35 percent said they would make it illegal.
Planned Parenthood said it picked its 19 districts because incumbents were fence sitters on the pro-life/pro-choice controversy. The group found in its results reasons for pro-choice votes. "Our supporters the majority in this state care enough about these issues to stand up for their right to comprehensive, quality health care. We are seeing this today and will continue to see this in elections to come," said Amy Dienesch, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Association/Chicago Area.
Although lawmakers did not grapple with abortion, they did settle the dispute
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over workers' compensation insurance, Administrative reform of the Illinois Industrial Commission, the body that runs the system that pays medical expenses and lost wages to workers with job-related injuries or sickness, had been agreed to by business and labor in June. Opposition from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association to a provision that allowed voluntary binding arbitration torpedoed the bill then.
The current system had been criticized by labor as being too slow in providing benefits to injured workers. It had been criticized by business as being too expensive. A report commissioned by the governor pointed out a number of administrative inadequacies around which negotiations centered. Among the system's failings were that records were stored in card-board boxes, that the computer system was unreliable and that when an arbitrator's ruling is appealed to the full commission, as happens in 70 percent of cases, delays as long as two years ensue.
The compromise worked out between lawmakers, the governor, business and labor allows appeal of abritrators' rulings to the circuit court on questions of law and allows use of arbitrators from outside the commission. Breaking the deadlock freed 2.8 million in new funds to add staff and upgrade computers at the commission, money approved by lawmakers but uncommitted pending an agreement.
Other provisions of the law include:
Workers compensation won approval in both chambers. Property tax relief lost in the House and never got to the Senate. And abortion failed to get to the floor of either chamber. To some that makes the veto session a "do nothing" affair. But, as originally conceived, the veto session is supposed to deal with legislation vetoed by the governor. To those who champion legislative restraint and deliberative action, failure to address those issues was just fine.
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