Friday marks the deadline for Senate bills that have passed that chamber to be approved by an Illinois House committee. As it stands today SB754 remains in the Rules Committee, which is the starting point for every piece of legislation that goes through the House. The committee is made up of five members. Four of those five members support the legislation including the chief sponsor, State Representative Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley).
The Rules Committee doesn’t conduct meetings like other legislative committees. There are no reporters there. And no one is there to speak on behalf of or against a bill. The Rules Committee meets in a small room off of the House chamber. Sometimes they meet before the House goes in to session and sometimes they meet during session.
Ultimately, House Speaker Michael Madigan has control over the Rules Committee. And this wouldn’t be the first time a bill has languished in the Rules Committee or has never made it out. According to a September, 2010 Chicago Tribune editorial, plenty of good bills have been laid to rest in Rules.
“A bill can’t go anywhere until it gets out of the Rules Committee, which, like all committees, is controlled by the speaker. A measure that would have allowed voters to recall state executives and lawmakers died in Rules. So did a bill meant to repair the giant loopholes in the state’s first-ever campaign finance limits, and one that would have taken the once-every-decade job of redrawing legislative districts out of the hands of incumbents. The Democratic leadership wouldn’t let them out. It takes a unanimous vote of the House to override the committee, impossible by definition.”
Now, we’re not quite saying that is the fate of SB754. But we have seen a few red flags pop up over the last few days.
Before we give you the bad news, we should remind you that first and foremost this legislation has a great deal of support. It passed out of the Senate with 48 “Yes” votes. Of the members present that day 88% of the Senate supported self-distribution rights for craft brewers in the state. In the Illinois House 46 lawmakers, and counting, have signed on in support of SB754. Despite this overwhelming show of support the bill has sat in Rules for almost a week.
Secondly (and we’re surprised this slipped under our radar initially) the lone “No” vote in the Senate was made by Steve Landek (D-Bridgeview). Speculation about the reason for Landek’s “no” vote was varied – he doesn’t have a brewery or a distributor in his district, so there’s no direct constituency for him to be serving by going against the tide. But, there’s this: Landek is Speaker Madigan’s senator and was appointed to the Senate in February. According to a report by the Sun Times Media Wire the appointment process took a matter of minutes with the Speaker, who runs the state’s Democratic party, doing the bulk of the talking.
“The meeting was over in just less than six minutes, with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) doing most of the talking, and the voting. An attorney stood by to ensure correct procedure.
Set up a committee to nominate a candidate? Appoint a committee chair? Nominate Landek?
“Those in favor of that motion will say, ‘Aye,’ those opposed, say, ‘No.’ The ‘Ayes’ have it. The motion is adopted,” Madigan said in a single breath.
“Is there any discussion on the question? OK, no discussion,” he said in another.”
To say that Landek’s “no” vote is a clear indicator that Madigan intends this legislation to die off would be pure speculation, but suffice to say it doesn’t exactly instill us with a warm fuzzy feeling.
Finally, you may remember that some of the lobbyists that Anheuser-Busch has hired to fight against craft brewers in Illinois and SB754 have close ties to Speaker Madigan. Topping the list is Michael McClain, a former state lawmaker and seatmate of Madigan’s. The two routinely grab a bite as friends at Madigan’s favorite Springfield haunt. Two of Madigan’s former top aides are also lobbying on behalf of A-B. Mike Thomson was the political director for the Illinois Democratic Party and Liz Brown was the House Dems legislative director.
If you thought because SB754 passed the Senate and because there is so much support in the House, that the Save The Craft effort was in the bag, think again. Nothing in Illinois is ever certain. Keep calling and emailing your local lawmaker, especially if they are not listed as a co-sponsor. The more support this bill has, the greater its chances of being released from the Rules Committee and passing the House.