CHANGE Illinois testimony for the 2019 General Assembly session

HB2541 civics for formerly incarcerated individuals

Submitted on behalf of CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan, non-profit focused on achieving efficient, ethical and fair government and elections. Thank you for allowing our organization to submit this testimony to express our support for the Re-Entering Civics Education Act, HB2541.

The Re-Entering Civics Education Act would provide incarcerated individuals with nonpartisan civics education upon their release from prison. These classes would teach those leaving prison about the voting process, government, and current affairs within twelve months of their discharge.

With 30,000 people re-entering society from Illinois prisons every year, this bill would significantly help those citizens reintegrate into society, become more informed about the voting process and about registering to vote. No citizen should have to wonder if they’re allowed to vote or even if they can get registered to vote. In strengthening our democracy and encouraging participation, it’s possible that the civics program established through HB2541 also would lower recidivism rates.

Our organization long has pushed for key voting rights and ballot access laws, including Automatic Voter Registration and Same-Day Registration. We aim to support policies that will encourage voting and increasing voter participation. Common sense proposals like HB2541 will aid in this work to grow our participatory democracy. By educating people as they embark on their second chance in society and helping them learn about voting and elections, we can increase the number of informed voters participating in our democracy.

We ask you to send this bill to the floor without delay. Thank you.

SB90 drainage districts consolidation

Submitted on behalf of CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan, non-profit focused on achieving efficient, ethical and fair government and elections. Thank you for allowing our organization to submit this testimony to express our support for SB90.

The Comptroller’s office has counted that Illinois has more than 8,500 units of government; while the U.S. Census Bureau puts the count at 6,900 (the latter didn’t separate out sub-units such as highway districts etc.) Regardless of which number you use, either is far more than any other state in the country. And while we recognize that we shouldn’t wantonly consolidate government just to lower that number, we should encourage consolidation when it makes sense, eliminates duplicative services, and saves taxpayers money. Allowing for the dissolution of drainage districts is a commonsense way to combine government entities and duties that shouldn’t have been split up in the first place. These dissolutions will save taxpayers’ money by allowing the appropriations and funds previously allocated to the drainage district’s board and board members to be put to other uses in county government. SB90 also would give the county board the ability to adjust or dissolve any tax or levy imposed by a dissolved drainage district, again saving money for taxpayers.

Last year, Illinois enacted similar laws allowing for the dissolution and consolidation of mosquito abatement districts and eliminating an election board in DuPage County. DuPage County alone has streamlined and consolidated seven units of local government since 2013. If each of Illinois’ 102 counties did that we could consolidate more than 1,000 units of government.

Momentum for streamlining government is growing and SB90 is a good next step. We hope you’ll vote to send this bill to the floor for a full vote. Thank you for your time.

SB 1236 county good governance omnibus

Submitted on behalf of CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan, non-profit focused on achieving efficient, ethical and fair government and elections. Thank you for allowing our organization to submit this testimony to express our support for amending SB1236.

SB1236 is a commonsense policy package that will strengthen the public’s trust in government and increase transparency.

Eliminating the loophole that allows county board members to simultaneously collect both a pension and a paycheck for the same job at the same time must be done in order to rebuild trust among constituents. Holding elected office is and always should be a public service, not a means for personal gain. Allowing a county official to engage in double-dipping by earning a salary at the same time she or he is collecting a public pension check crosses the line. Pensions are for people who are no longer serving and this practice should be outlawed.

We also support adding language to address the removal of a county board chair. Both the U.S. Constitution and Illinois’ state constitution outline clear procedures for removing chief executives from office and county boards should have a procedure as well. These protocols were added as a necessary fail-safe to protect the public from wrongdoing, ineptitude, or other concerns that may arise in an executive office. This aspect of SB1236 (in house amendment 1) would apply this procedure at the county level, filling in a gap in the checks-and-balances system that is essential in our democracy.

The provision in this legislation that would require informing newly elected countywide officials about transitional audits and provide increased disclosure for state contractors are logical transparency practices we ask you to support. After our state’s recent budget crisis, we should be encouraging new county officers to look over the books to find ways to responsibly cut costs and save money. Audits will provide the necessary information to guide countywide officials to do their jobs and be fiscally responsible. Lastly, requiring disclosure of familial relationships before public contracts are agreed upon is a positive, necessary change to prevent and eliminate potential conflicts-of-interest and nepotism that erodes public confidence in government.

The measures in SB1236 will keep moving us toward ethical transparent government at the local level. Thank you for your time.

Memos to Chicago Mayor-Elect Lightfoot on good governance

Last week, our executive director, Madeleine Doubek, was honored to join many of our partners as a member of the Lightfoot transition committee on good governance.

As a member of this transition committee, we prepared two memos on what the new administration can to do make our government more efficient and more representative of its residents.

You can read our two memos below:
1. Government Efficiency.  Among the objectives you campaigned on was one to create a more efficient and effective government through city-county and other government collaborations. As you’ve noted the city’s finances are dire, therefore it’s critical that every effort be made to streamline and achieve those efficiencies.

To achieve it, create a Chicago Efficiency Initiative that starts with a full audit of city government and its spending. [Read the full memo]

2. “Conflict-Free Chicago.” In a campaign cycle that saw an FBI probe into allegations the city’s longest-serving alderman shook down a fast-food restaurant owner, another alderman wore a wire, and a third convicted of wire fraud, your victory makes it clear there is a hunger for a change toward ethics, truly representative democracy and accountability. As you noted, Chicago residents expect quick action to institute public policies that will transform systems so any resident can run and win and officials know they must act in the public’s interest or they will be held to account if they falter.

Voters have made it clear they share your commitment to create “a more open, representative and diverse government, free from conflicts of interest.” To achieve it, create a “Conflict-Free Chicago” — a city government where politicians truly are representative public servants who must operate with integrity and accountability, leaving behind the Chicago Machine and ward boss systems. [Read the full memo]

Voters have made it clear they share your commitment to create “a more open, representative and diverse government, free from conflicts of interest.” To achieve it, create a “Conflict-Free Chicago” — a city government where politicians truly are representative public servants who must operate with integrity and accountability, leaving behind the Chicago Machine and ward boss systems. [Read the full memo]

Have other ideas you want us to bring up at the transition committee meetings? Email us!

How to file a witness slip

A witness slip is a public record that allows you as an individual or as a member of an organization to indicate your stance on a given piece of legislation ahead of a scheduled House or Senate committee hearing.

Witness slips are a vital part of the process and let lawmakers know where constituents and organizations stand before they vote on a particular piece of legislation.

How to file a witness slip if you have a direct web link:

1. Click the web link and fill out all the identification fields. Be sure to include an email address so you get a confirmation email that your witness slip went through.
2. Fill out the “Representation” section only if you’re filing a slip on behalf of a supportive organization (e.g. your neighborhood association, local chamber of commerce, Lions Club, etc.)
3. Indicate your “position” on the bill: “proponent,” “opponent,” or “no position on the merits.”
4. In the “Testimony” section click all that apply (Oral/Written Statement Filed/Record of Appearance Only) If you’re simply indicating that you are “for” or “against” a bill, click record of appearance only.
5. Click “Agree to the Terms of Agreement” and then click “Create (Slip).”
6. Before you close out the witness slip tab, check your email for a confirmation that your slip was filed.
7. Please share the witness slip link with your friends and colleagues encouraging them to do the same.

How to file a witness slip if you have a bill number:

1. Go to the IL General Assembly webpage: ilga.gov
2. Type in the bill number in the left search box for the legislation you’re interested in (e.g. HB1 or SB1000) and click “Go.”
3. When the bill appears, click the “Witness Slips” link at the top of the page underneath the bill number.
4. On the Witness Slips page, click the hearing notice link just above the list of bill “proponents.”
5. Click the “Create Witness Slips” button on the right side of the page.
6. A new tab or window will open in your browser with the hearing date, time and location.
7. Find the bill number for which you want to file a witness slip.
8. On the right side of the page, click the “Create Witness Slip” button (the pencil and paper icon) next to the bill number you want.
9. Fill out the identification information, representation section, if applicable, and the testimony section. When you’re done, click “Create (Slip).”

Want to keep this information handy? Download our “how to” PDF here.

Fair Maps at the Supreme Court

Fair maps return to the center stage at the U.S. Supreme Court this month.

Want to read up more about each of the three cases? Check out our synopses for each below:

MARCH 18Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections – Virginia’s racial gerrymander. This case argues that Virginia’s state legislative maps were drawn to intentionally pack black voters in as small a number of districts as possible, unconstitutionally limiting their representation in office and unfairly diminishing their political capital. This case comes just a few years after a federal judge threw out Virginia’s congressional map for the same reason. The Supreme Court has ruled against racial gerrymandering several times over the decades, something we hope continues in 2019. [Read more on Oyez]

MARCH 26Benisek v. Lamone – Maryland’s Democratic gerrymander. Maryland Democrats, including former-Gov. Martin O’Malley, have stated they drew their congressional maps in order to knock off a sitting Republican incumbent and move the state’s congressional delegation from 6-2 (Dem) to 7-1. [Read more from SCOTUS Blog]

MARCH 26Common Cause v. Rucho – North Carolina’s Republican gerrymander. On March 26th, the Supreme Court also will hear arguments for North Carolina’s infamous congressional maps. The North Carolina GOP bragged about their maps publicly, saying their 11-3 advantage existed only because they couldn’t figure out how to draw themselves a 12-2 advantage against the Tar Heel State Democrats. [Read more from SCOTUS Blog]

The cases the Supreme Court will hear on March 26, one Democratic gerrymander and one Republican, illustrate that the stain of gerrymandering on our nation is bipartisan.

We hope the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to end this despicable practice once and for all.

Four ways to make our elections more fair

By Madeleine Doubek, Executive Director

 

To begin to repair our state, we should start repairing our elections. We need fair political maps and fair ballot access.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Now, our election processes are broken and backward. Consider that:

  • After each census, one major political party or the other retreats to a back room and draws new political maps that will protect their own power and their own majority. It’s about them, not us. They draw boundaries that stifle competition for incumbents. Our votes can become meaningless.

[Read the full column at the Chicago Sun-Times]