Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The right thing, or the wrong way?

There is a process. And House Speaker Michael Madigan will never let this or any governor forget that. He believes in the legislature as an institution, and the he will not stand by if anyone tries to circumvent the legislative process. The House took action tonight that some believe could lead to another court challenge of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s executive authority. Others truly agree with the governor’s changes, which include expanding health insurance options to young adults and giving property tax breaks to injured veterans.

But the two changes, along with some of Blagojevich’s previous agenda items, bring to light two fundamental questions about the policymaking process and the legislative prerogative:
  • What is the scope of the executive power to use an amendatory veto to change legislation other than for minor changes?
  • And what is the rulemaking authority of the executive branch, and is that power limited by a legislative panel’s power to review the proposed rules?

They’re both questions that have been asked since the adoption of the 1970 Illinois Constitution. My boss and executive editor of Illinois Issues magazine, Dana Heupel, asked, “How far can governors go with amendatory vetoes?” in 1999, when he wrote from the Statehouse for Copley News Service. In that article, he analyzes then-Gov. George Ryan’s use of the amendatory veto to change how generic drugs could be approved for use in Illinois.

“His amendatory veto of the generic drug bill, along with others he has issued, will set in motion a process that House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has followed for a decade because he believes governors sometimes abuse their authority in changing legislation. ‘What he’s concerned about is a preemptive strikes by the governor’s office on the work of the legislature,’ said Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown.”

The speaker’s position hasn’t changed.

That sets up this summer’s controversy. Blagojevich is embarking on what he calls a “rewrite to do right” campaign. He recently said he’ll change some 50 bills. See details of the first two amendatory vetoes at the bottom of this post.

The House tonight approved two of the governor’s amendatory vetoes, and some legislators supported because they agreed with the governor’s changes, while others — House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, among them — voted to accept the governor’s amendatory vetoes so that the issue could land in court.

Currie, a Chicago Democrat, chairs a special House Rules Committee that carries out Madigan’s longstanding process of determining whether the changes are germane to the original intent of the legislation. If the committee members think the change violates the intent, then the bill usually dies. On the other hand, if there’s a motion to override or to accept the governor’s changes, then the measure goes straight to the floor for a vote. It also needs approval by the Senate.

Tonight’s vote to accept the governor’s changes about health insurance and veterans’ property taxes, then, allows the separation of powers to be studied, again, Currie said on the House floor.

“I think that the lack of clarity from the court decisions may mean that it’s time for a second crack for the judicial branch. Maybe we ought to invite the question before the courts whether this particularly amendatory veto, for example, does go beyond the scope of that authority provided in the Constitution. For that reason, I would suggest that an eye vote may help us answer this question that has been so contentious between the two branches ever since 1971.”

The intent of the delegates at the 1970 constitutional convention was to allow the governor to correct technical errors or minor drafting mistakes, not give him or her carte blanche to totally rewrite legislation, said Charlie Wheeler, longtime Statehouse reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and current director of the Public Affairs Reporting graduate program at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

To this day, however, the state Constitution does not specify the scope of the amendatory veto power. Courts have ruled that the governor is limited in that he or she can’t completely rewrite legislation and can’t change the fundamental purpose of bills. But what qualifies as changing the purpose of legislation is open to interpretation, leading numerous governors to try to use the power as broadly as possible.

“There are bounds beyond which a governor can’t go, but this particular issue before us isn’t one of them,” Wheeler said.

Blagojevich said at a Statehouse press conference tonight that he believes the Constitution is very clear. “The governor has complete opportunity to be able to take bills like that and rewrite them, and in this particular case, expand them and widen them. And the General Assembly can then choose to approve or not approve or ignore what I did. To the credit of the House of Representatives, they acted on it. And they voted in favor of that [health insurance] expansion, and it’s pretty good.”

Wheeler, who spoke with me before the House accepted Blagojevich’s first two amendatory vetoes, referred to the governor’s “rewrite to do right” campaign as the “rewrite to screw things up campaign,” basically with the intent to make Madigan look like an obstructionist. But Wheeler stressed that the debate about Blagojevich’s amendatory vetoes is deeper than a manifestation of the personality battles and power struggles between Madigan and Blagojevich. It’s more of a constitutional question about the checks-and-balances system between the legislative and the executive branches.

“In my mind, I think Madigan has the better argument because Madigan has a long history as somebody who’s very concerned about legislative process,” Wheeler said. “He’s concerned about the institution. He cares about that stuff. And Blagojevich has sort of a shorter history of following the Constitution, the statutes, administrative regulations, when they’re convenient. And when they’re not convenient, ‘Hey, they’re advisory.’”

That’s exactly the argument Blagojevich used when a bipartisan panel of legislators rejected his previous health care expansions. The governor tried to use his executive authority to expand state-sponsored health care to middle-income adults, but the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules rejected the plan because members believed there was no money to cover the health care expansion and that the administration lacks authority to initiate the plan without going through the legislative process. The governor said he would expand the program anyway because the panel only served an advisory role. The expansions, however, landed in court and actually were stopped.

To send a message that the governor can’t enact such programs without legislative oversight, Madigan started attaching language to the end of bills that would require the administration’s proposed rules to come back before the General Assembly before they could be enacted.

While the Constitution is unclear about some executive powers and legislative oversight, it remains crystal clear that Madigan will do whatever necessary to preserve the legislative prerogative.

Here are the two amendatory vetoes Blagojevich so far has issued and that the House has accepted:

HB 5285, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Chuck Jefferson of Rockford and Sen. Rickey Hendon of Chicago.
Original intent: College students could stay on their parents’ health insurance plans for a year if they took a medical leave of absence or reduced their course loads to part time because of an illness or injury.
Governor’s AV: All parents could decide whether to extend their health insurance coverage to their children up to age 26. Veterans could stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 30.
HB 4201, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Keith Sommer of Morton and Sen. Dan Rutherford of Chenoa.
Original intent: Extended a tax increment-financing district in the Village of Downs.
Governor’s AV: Extend property tax exemptions to all veterans with a service-connected disability certified by the U. S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The more disabled they’re labeled by the federal system, the higher the property tax exemption.

No comments: