Now that Governor Rod Blagojevich has unilaterally declared that a previously obscure but always important legislative committee has no real power, things could change radically at the Illinois Statehouse.
Last month, the governor said that the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules has only an "advisory" role over his proposed rules.
Legislators write laws, but governors implement those laws. Often, legislators will leave the bills loose enough that the governor and his various agency directors can use their bureaucratic expertise to decide how exactly the laws will be implemented.
The one hoop the administration had to jump through was the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR for short. JCAR is a bipartisan panel made up of state Senators and House members who review proposed rules.
Up until Gov. Blagojevich's first term, JCAR couldn't actually stop proposed rules from taking effect. They could review them and recommend changes (which delayed the process), but the House and Senate had to agree with JCAR's decision to block any rules.
Then Blagojevich signed a bill into law which changed all that and gave JCAR tons more power. Now, the committee can halt any proposed administrative rules on its own.
As you may already know, last month JCAR blocked a rule change proposed by Gov. Blagojevich that would have allowed him to immediately expand the eligibility roles for government funded health insurance programs. Health insurance is the governor's top priority, and he had previously claimed the right to veto spending from one part of the state budget and spend it on expanding health care, which would be unconstitutional, but that's another story.
After the committee blocked the rules, Blagojevich ordered his agency to directors to proceed as though JCAR actually approved the rule.
The governor then sent his press office out to tell reporters that JCAR was unconstitutional and didn't have the authority to block his new idea - even though Blagojevich signed that aforementioned law which allowed JCAR to do just that.
The governor's move caused quite an uproar. His tendency to ignore the Constitution, his stubborn refusal to take "No" for an answer from large bipartisan majorities in the General Assembly, his blatant abuse of his powers to call special legislative sessions (he's called more than all modern governors combined) and his hypocritical lawsuits against the House Speaker over, of all things, constitutional issues, had already rankled legislators to no end.
I asked House Speaker Michael Madigan what impact the governor's move would have. His response: Bills are going to get a whole lot longer.
In the past, the General Assembly could avoid writing the minutiae of implementation language into most legislation because JCAR had a check on the administration's rulemaking authority. Now, with the governor throwing JCAR out the window, legislators will likely want to make sure that they write as much detail as they can into their proposals. As a result, the system may become lots more cumbersome.
Lawmakers may also want to revisit old laws and update them in an attempt to prevent Blagojevich from making even more mischief. It's quite a messy situation, as you can imagine.
The new environment is just one of many reasons why the House Speaker has taken so long to write his new gaming expansion proposal. With the governor claiming unilateral authority to write new rules as he sees fit, Madigan wants to make sure his has all his bases covered on this super-complicated issue before turning over implementation to the ever mischevous Blagojevich.
Whenever an executive tries to grab lots more authority, it's usually seen by the legislative branch as an abuse of power and that branch often ends up with more power than before. The backlash against President Richard Nixon's notorious power grabs produced all sorts of laws that were designed to limit the executive's authority, for instance, and the same thing is starting to happen with President George W. Bush.
Gov. Blagojevich has seemed intent since Day One on remaking the governor's office into a far more powerful branch, often overstepping his authority or "misreading" the Constitution. Considering his abrasive tactics, massive unpopularity with the public and bungled Statehouse execution, he could wind up leaving the governor's office as a hobbled shell of its former self.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com