SPRINGFIELD – A year ago, a new era in Illinois politics began. Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch made history by becoming the first black speaker in the Illinois House, ending the state’s longest-serving politician Mike Madigan’s nearly 40-year reign.
The Democrat said he has changed the way business is conducted in the State House, but Republicans say they are still waiting for a new era of bipartisanship in Springfield to begin. Many in Springfield say bias feels the same way under the new speaker, but there is optimism that Democrats and Republicans can agree on anti-crime laws.
In a virtual sitdown with WGN News, the Democratic president spoke about his performance in the first year and a look ahead.
“I think if you talk to people in this room, they’ll tell you it’s been a big difference,” Welch said. “First and foremost, my style is more collective and works with everyone in a team approach.”
House Republican leader Jim Durkin looks at Welch’s first year differently. He says his party’s bill rarely sees the light of day.
“The speaker, at least his predecessor, would give us a few bites of the apple and we just would not get there,” Durkin said.
“So you had more to eat as a party under Mike Madigan than Chris Welch?” asked WGN News.
“That’s correct,” Durkin replied.
Right now, Springfield is working without a watchdog investigating corruption. The Legislative Ethics Commission has disagreed over a replacement for Carol Pope, who decided to leave the job after claiming that genuine ethics reform is not a priority in Springfield.
“Do you want to get involved to get the committee to find someone to take on that job?” asked WGN News.
“Well, I think it would still be a little too early for me to get involved,” Welch said. “They’re going through a process. It’s my understanding that we should hear something in the next week or two.”
In response, Durkin says: “If we do not know the police and have a proper inspector general to oversee the general assembly, it is very condemning what it says about prioritizing ethics in the state government.”
After a violent year for Illinois cities, including Chicago, Welch and Durkin say the legislature should pass new crime legislation.
‘Crime is a problem. We want people who commit the crime to pay the time, “Welch said.” There are some things we are likely to do, especially when it comes to funding our police officers. There are some things we are likely to do in the carjacking area in terms of the organized retail crime scene. “
Durkin supports new legislation on retail theft, and he wants to repeal Illinois’ comprehensive criminal law that reformed police accountability, custody, and sentencing.
“There is language in the bills that is very, very worrying from my perspective as a prosecutor, for victims and also for law enforcement,” Durkin said.
With Democrats controlling both chambers of the Legislative Assembly and the governor’s mansion, it is unlikely that criminal justice reform will need to be taken up again.
As this is an election year, the legislature is betting on finishing its work sometime in April. However, due to COVID, the committees work remotely.
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