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In the minority, lawmakers find a way

Two GOP legislators who call Dixon home have found ways to make a difference in Springfield, even in the face of long political odds. That ability ultimately helps them to better serve their constituents.

Published: Saturday, April 26, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
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(Sauk Valley Media)
The Illinois General Assembly reconvenes next week at the State Capitol Building, Springfield, for the final sprint until adjournment on May 31.

The Republican Party certainly doesn’t hold sway in the Illinois Legislature. Democrats have hefty majorities in the House (71-47) and Senate (40-19), and they run things their way.

But Wednesday’s Sauk Valley Media Editorial Board meeting with two GOP legislators from Dixon was instructive regarding how minority Republicans can still exert a certain amount of influence.

State Rep. Tom Demmer and state Sen. Tim Bivins spoke of big-issue items that face the Legislature from the time it reconvenes next week through its adjournment date of May 31, such as income tax rates, the budget, school funding, and the perils of a possible lame-duck session.

Elsewhere, an interesting project of Demmer’s is a bill to widen the availability of annual audits of county and municipal funds and accounts.

Demmer proposes that, within 60 days of the close of an audit, each member of a county or municipal board should receive copies of management letters and audited financial statements.

In addition, the auditing firm would be required to present the information to the board, either in person or by a live phone or Web connection, during a public meeting.

That way, Demmer reasons, city council and county board members could ask questions about audit results and get better acquainted with taxpayers’ money that they oversee.

One final provision: Management letters and financial statements would have to be posted to the website of the municipality or county, if the entity has one, so the public can more easily keep a watchful eye on government spending.

Demmer’s bill won approval in the House by a 113-0 vote on April 1. No fooling! Now it goes to the Senate, where Demmer said the Sangamon County auditor wants to testify in its favor.

Anyone familiar with the saga of Dixon’s former comptroller knows there are at least 53 million reasons that the bill makes sense.

Bivins, a former Lee County sheriff, had quite a bit of influence last year when concealed carry negotiations were underway, and his imprint is on the legislation that won final approval.

Bivins said he believes the State Police have “done a pretty decent job” implementing the concealed carry law this year, “for the enormity of it.”

Concealed carryhas been a target for amendment by various lawmakers, even Bivins, who sought to allow anyone with a valid concealed carry license, along with off-duty law enforcement officers and officials, to carry a handgun while hunting.

But at this point, Bivins believes none of the concealed carry amendments will go anywhere this spring.

Bivins shared a story about how he was on the losing side of a 57-1 vote in the Senate to ban police departments from issuing quotas on tickets.

Everyone else thought it was a good idea so that police officers would not be required to write a certain number of traffic citations within a specific time period, or be evaluated on the number of citations that they issue.

Bivins, however, explained that the issue was promoted by police officers who were upset that the Carbondale Police Department’s leadership wanted to hold them to some kind of performance quotas, as one officer had not written a ticket in 2 months. Having lost at the local level, officers took the issue to their state senator, who introduced the quota-ban bill, which then got approved in the Senate.

Casting the lone vote against it, Bivins argued that the legislation would give certain officers permission to slack off.

In his 6 years in the Senate, Bivins said, chuckling, it was the first time he had been the only vote against a bill.

Even if they are not in the majority, Bivins and Demmer have found ways to get their points across and influence the outcome of legislation. That ability ultimately helps them to better serve their constituents.

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