Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Citizens' initiative may not pass legal muster

By Jamey Dunn

An amendatory veto issued by Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday would allow citizens to present legislation related to campaign finance reform and ethics to the General Assembly for a vote, but it may also step on the toes of the Illinois Constitution.

If voters could collect 100,000 signatures, their proposal would be drafted into law, and the legislature would be required to take a vote on it. From the statement issues by Quinn:

The ethics initiative that I propose gives the people of our state the ultimate power to express and protect their interests: the power to change state law. Too often, issues such as ethics and campaign finance reform get pushed from the forefront. Voters need a safety valve to ensure that ideas, however inconvenient or unpopular for incumbent officeholders, proceed through the legislative process.

However, this may go too far in placing legislative power in the hands of citizens.

“The [Illinois] constitutional document sets down certain power that the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches have, and the legislature cannot just give away its power to introduce and pass laws. ... [These changes are] purporting by statute for the legislature to essentially cede part of its constitutional authority — to make laws — to citizens,” said political scientist Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and director of the Sunshine Project, a nonprofit campaign contribution database connected to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

But Quinn does not agree. From the veto message:

The legislative power to pass laws is a mighty power. My recommendation below does not detract from the General Assembly’s constitutional authority. Under my proposal, the General Assembly retains its full lawmaking authority.

Redfield said the framers of the state Constitution made a clear decision not to include a broader citizens’ initiative procedure. “The [Constitutional Convention] delegates considered initiative. They knew about the California model … and they consciously rejected it. They crafted a limited citizens’ initiative process. … This [amendatory veto] attempts to essentially amend the Constitution by statute, and you can’t do that.”

Redfield said it is doubtful that the legislature would approve the veto or an earlier amendatory veto that would create an open primary election system. He says they are likely just vehicles to get Quinn’s message out to voters.

“There’s no hope that either one of them is going to get accepted in the legislature, but it is an easy way to very publicly assert a position. To be for or against X or Y … and you don’t have to rent a hall or send out a direct mailer.”

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