Statehouse
6:00 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Reducing The Number Of State Laws Not So Simple

The name “lawmaker” implies someone who helps pass laws.  But some who serve in the role are critical of that part of the job description.  Lee Strubinger looks at why they say there are too many laws on the books. 

Credit dnr.illinois.gov

Every year when the Illinois General Assembly goes in to session, a regular drumbeat of new proposals are debated.  They deal with topics from crime, to regulation and even seemingly innocuous measures to honor someone or something.    

More than 600 new laws were signed in the last year alone.

For many Republicans, laws that require more from businesses are seen as an obstacle to job growth.   And in an election year, it can play well with voters to call for less government.  Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist running to be the Republican nominee for governor, is playing that card.

"Let's do a 3 for 1.  Let's reduce, take away three regulations for every new regulation we put in place.  I'm going to try and have that understanding and try to stick to it as we go forward.  Because Illinois is an over regulated, over taxed and over fee'd state," Rauner said.

The message is similar from state Senator Kirk Dillard, who is also running in that primary.  Last year, he called for eliminating what he called "unnecessary" laws.  And Dillard says if elected governor, his running mate would have a specific job.

"I've said throughout this campaign, in addition to being the lieutenant governor, Jil Tracy is going to be known as the ‘Repealer’ in state government.  She's going to go throughout this state talking to businesses, small and large, and farmers and families about what laws are stifling economic development in this state," Dillard said.

But there are skeptics.  Kim Maisch is Illinois Director for the National Federation of Independent Business.  She says the theme is brought up each election.

"I think all of the republican candidates are very genuine when they talk about reducing regulations.  But, you know, I heard it all when George Ryan ran for governor and won.  And he talked about reducing regulations and he put his lieutenant governor on the job and she came up with a list of things that should happen and, of course, none of it happened," Maisch said.

Some members of the legislature say they don't want to wait for the election.  

Representative Ron Sandack, a Republican from Downer's Grove, has introduced a measure that would set up what he calls a ‘board of Legislative Repealers,’ to get rid of obsolete and duplicative laws.  He says excess state laws are confusing, and cumbersome:

"And eventually, you're going to need a lawyer just to get out of your house," Sandack said.

Sandack points to century old cargo laws as examples of some that are outdated and unnecessary.

But Sandack is helping sponsor over 50 bills this session. His name was attached to nine that became law in the last year.

Sandack admits he introduces a lot of proposals, but says he'll draft legislation to help people in his district:

"I plead guilty that when my constituent says 'Hey I want you to-- would you please consider doing 'x' and 'y' That's what we do. That's why I still think it makes sense to have this repealer law to balance that off to make sure we are doing things efficiently," Sandack said.

Chris Mooney, Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, says a lot of legislation that's passed seems relatively minor, but it’s a big deal for a particular agency or group of people.

"We have to realize that lawmakers are constantly being asked to pass these bills, lots of good ideas.  There's an old cartoon that says 'There Oughta Be A Law' that was the title of it.  And that's a very common attitude," Mooney said.

Mooney says while there is a perception that many laws are outdated, he says there are less than you may imagine. 

Lawmakers also want to tout accomplishments at campaign time.  

That's evident in a suburban race this year.   Freshman House member Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, has yet to get a law passed since she was elected. Ives' primary opponent has criticized her over the goose egg on her legislative scorecard.

Ives says being a lawmaker is not just about passing laws – it’s also about trying to make sure some ideas never become law.

"Part of being a legislator is also to point out bad legislation from the past that has gotten us into the mess that we're into and having the courage, the courage to stand up and speak up for your tax payers and for your residents," Ives said.

Another reason Republicans want fewer laws is they have been relegated to minority status in Illinois’ General Assembly, meaning they can only get laws approved if Democrats go along.  And Democrats can do what they want. 

Take the case of Representative Ron Sandack, the Republican who wants to create a committee to repeal laws.  He's pushed for the plan since last year.  So far, it has yet to make it out of the General Assembly.

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