Jim Dey | Who signs bill? Legislative maneuver raises question

Jim Dey | Who signs bill? Legislative maneuver raises question

On Jan. 17, three days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker took office, he signed into law a controversial gun-control measure that subjects firearms dealers in Illinois to new state licensing rules and regulations in addition to already existing federal rules.

Since the new General Assembly took office Jan. 9, Pritzker's action raised the question: How did the new Legislature manage to pass a law so fast that Pritzker could sign it?

The answer is, the new Legislature didn't pass the gun-control law.

SB 337 actually was passed by the previous General Assembly, which expired Jan. 8.

So how does a bill passed under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner get signed into law by the new Democratic governor?

More important, does that unique way of doing business pass legal muster?

"We're looking into that," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. "I call it legislative chicanery."

It's chicanery, to be sure. But chicanery is institutionalized in government at all levels in the Land of Lincoln.

The question is whether it's legal or illegal chicanery.

The odd timing was by design. The legislation was passed May 30 by the House and Senate. But, expecting a veto by Rauner, who characterized it as "duplicative" and said it would "do little to improve public safety," Senate President John Cullerton on May 31 put a procedural hold on it. That blocked the bill from being sent to the governor for action.

Cullerton waited until Jan. 8 to drop the hold, the last day of the old Legislature. Eight days later — Jan. 16 — he sent it to Pritzker for his signature.

The Illinois Constitution requires that bills passed by the General Assembly be sent to the governor within 30 days of passing. The procedural hold — known formally as a motion to reconsider — is a mechanism designed to evade the 30-day mandate.

But can it skip time constraints to the extent of jumping from one governor to the next?

It's happened before. In 2015, Rauner signed utility legislation that was passed by the previous General Assembly after legislative leaders put a hold on it until after former Gov. Pat Quinn left office.

The legality of the maneuver is a complicated question that the courts have not addressed. It involves issues like the separation of powers and legal definitions as to what constitutes "passing" a bill by the legislature.

A lawsuit pending before the Illinois Supreme Court raises the issue, but in a tangential, not direct, way.

The General Assembly passed a controversial abortion bill in 2017, and there was considerable speculation as to whether Rauner would sign it or veto it.

After the House passed HB 40 on April 25, 2017, and the Senate followed suit on May 10, 2017, state Sen. Don Harmon put a hold on it.

Harmon lifted the hold on Sept. 25 — well after the 30-day time limit — and Rauner signed it into law on Sept. 28, 2017.

A variety of anti-abortion organizations challenged the bill's constitutionality on multiple grounds, including the timing issue. But in a 4th District Appellate Court decision rejecting the lawsuit, Justice Lisa Holder White wrote that "even where the General Assembly fails to present a bill to the governor within 30 days, we find that failure has no effect on the bill's validity."

Joining White in the unanimous decision were Justices Robert Steigmann and Craig DeArmond.

The anti-abortion organizations, represented by lawyers from the Thomas More Society, have asked the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision.

Thomas More Society lawyers contend that the appellate court's "misinterpretation means the General Assembly flagrantly violated" the constitution's presentment clause while the courts have "brushed off failure to comply ... as not rendering a bill invalid."

The Illinois Supreme Court hears very few of the cases it's asked to consider — less than 10 percent. So chances are slim the timing issue involving the abortion bill will draw the court's attention.

The facts pertaining to the gun-control bill are somewhat different, particularly as they relate to governors Rauner and Pritzker. The Illinois State Rifle Association must decide if they're different enough to justify costly and time-consuming litigation.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.

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