Overview of IL State Legislation


The Legislative Branch in Illinois

The legislative branch is made up of the House and Senate, and is called the Illinois General Assembly. Members of the House are called Representatives; members of the Senate are called Senators. The Illinois General Assembly is divided into two year segments.

Representatives are elected from Representative Districts throughout the state. There are 118 Representative Districts in Illinois, each of which sends one Representative to the House. Representatives serve two year terms.

Senators are elected from Legislative Districts from throughout the state. There are 59 Legislative Districts in Illinois each of which sends one Senator to the Senate. Senators serve either two or four year terms. The length of their term is decided by a drawing of the Senate when the General Assembly is seated every two years. Thus, some Senators ma y only have a two year term once elected; if they are reelected they may have a four year term. Every two years one third of the Illinois Senate stands for reelection.

The Illinois Constitution mandates a new district map be drawn every ten years. This is to guarantee that changes in population and demographic makeup are reflected in the General Assembly. Following redistricting, elections are held that reflect the changes in the state’s population; this action often combines two or more districts into one and sometimes creates new districts.

Representatives and Senators maintain offices in their districts and in Springfield. The General Assembly convenes each year on the second Wednesday in January during the Governor’s State of the State address. The Illinois Constitution mandates the Governor to report to the General Assembly each year. Following the State of the State address, members of the General Assembly usually adjourn; they then work on proposals that will be introduced as bills in the upcoming session. The General Assembly usually comes into session in March, following the Governor’s Budget Address. They remain in session until around May 30th. The Governor may keep the members in Springfield until a state budget is in place. Lawmakers return to Springfield in the fall for Veto Session.

Members of the House and Senate are divided along partisan lines. Each chamber has a majority and minority party. In each chamber, each party has Floor Leaders who are elected by their fellow legislators at the start of each General Assembly.

House Leadership

The leader of the House is called the Speaker of the House. The Speaker is the elected by all the members of the House. The majority party caucus determines who they will nominate for Speaker. Thus, the control of the House is usually in the hands of the majority party.

The majority party elects a Majority Leader, a Deputy Majority Leader, six Assistant Majority Leaders, and a Party Conference Chairperson all of whom are elected from majority party members of the House.

The minority party elects a Minority Leader who leads the minority party in the House. They also elect two Deputy Minority Leaders, five Assistant Minority Leaders, and a Party Conference Chairperson all of whom are elected from minority party members of the House.

The Speaker controls the flow of legislation, the schedule for the House of Representatives, and when and if a bill is called for a vote. He or she also maintains order on the House floor, decides parliamentary issues, and works with minority leaders to resolve issues that may be blocking progress on legislation. Due to the Speaker’s considerable power, any legislation he or she opposes has little chance of moving out of the House. At times, if a bill is opposed by the Speaker it will never make it out of committee.

Senate Leadership

The President of the Senate acts in the same way as the Speaker of the House. The Senate President is elected from and by the members of the Senate. The majority party in the Senate elects a President, six Assistant Majority Leaders, and a Majority Party Caucus Chair. The Minority party elects a Minority Leader, five Assistant Minority Leaders, and a Minority Party Caucus Chair. Like the Speaker of the House, the Senate President has considerable power in determining what legislation moves from a committee and onto the Senate floor.

Both chambers have staff members who aid legislators in researching legislation and meeting with parties with a particular interest in a bill. Those members who are in leadership in their chamber or party provide direction and advice to members on proposed legislation and party business.

The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate are the most powerful members of the Legislative Branch. They can, and do, determine if a piece of proposed legislation is successful in moving through the lawmaking process.

Key Players

Chief Executive: Term sometimes used to describe the Governor.

Door Keeps: Those who check the credentials of those trying to access the chamber floor.

Hacks: People in key policy positions in the statehouse; usually used when describing top aides of the Governor who work with the legislature.

Hired Guns: Lobbyists.

Lawmakers: Can be anyone who holds elective office; when used around the statehouse it generally refers to State Senators or Representatives.

Leadership: Senators and Representatives elected by lawmakers to lead their respective party in their chamber.

Liaison: Usually used when describing state agency legislative liaisons who represent the agency at the statehouse.

Rail Birds: Lobbyists and members of the media who gather outside the House and Senate chambers on the third floor of the statehouse.

Scribes: Used by the media to describe those members who cover the statehouse and Illinois politics for their newspaper, magazine, and radio or television station.

Staffers: People appointed by the House and Senate to review proposed legislation, research existing law, and provide support for lawmakers. Each committee has a staffer assigned to it. Members of leadership and constitutional officers have numerous staffers.

Useful Terms

Amendatory Veto: When a Governor removes or adds something from a bill using an amendment. Used when the Governor agrees with most of a bill, but wants some specific changes made before signing it into law.

Amendment: Adding or removing language to or from a bill. Often occurs in the committee stage, although floor amendments do happen.

Appropriation Committee: Those committees of the General Assembly that hear budget requests from the departments and agencies that are funded by the State.

Bill: A written copy of a proposed law that is sent to the General Assembly for consideration.

Budget Address: The formal recommendation of finding levels for the upcoming fiscal year given by the Governor.

Calendar: The schedule of when and where a bill is to be heard for debate or called for a vote.

Calling a Bill: The formal act of a leader of a chamber or a committee that opens the floor of a committee for debate or voting on a bill.

Caucus Meeting: A closed meeting of party members to decide nominations or legislative strategy.

Chamber of Origin: The chamber of the General Assembly in which a bill is first introduced.

Collar Counties: A term used to describe the Republican-controlled counties surrounding Cook County: DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will.

Concurrence: When one chamber agrees with an amendment the other chamber adds to a bill.

Conference Committee: A special committee appointed by leadership of both chambers to resolve legislative differences concerning amendments to a bill.

Constituent: Citizen of a lawmaker’s district.

Constitution: The Constitution of the State of Illinois as mended by the 1970 Constitutional convention which amended the 1870 Constitution.

Constitutional Officers: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller, and Treasurer.

General Assembly: The House and Senate of Illinois.

Introduce: The formal act by a lawmaker that moves a proposed piece of legislation from draft to bill form.

Joint Session: A session that includes both the House and Senate. The State of the State Address and the Budget Address are joint sessions.

Kill: The act of stopping a bill where it currently lies.

Legislative Research Unit: Conducts research for legislators on current laws and bills.

Line Item Veto: Allows the Governor to remove portions of an appropriation from a bill without vetoing the entire bill.

Lobby: To attempt to influence the lawmaking process.

Lobbyist: Persons who represent certain points of view or interest and attempt to influence the lawmaking process.

Override: The action the General Assembly takes when they do not approve of the Governor’s veto. A 3/5th majority is required in each chamber.

Party Line Voting: When members of a party all vote the same way on a bill.

Present Vote: Used by a lawmaker when he or she wish to take no stand on a bill; it records that he or she was present during voting.

Public Education Forum: A public meeting held to describe or define a proposed law; it may be conducted by a state agency or a private interest group.

Rank and File: Members of the General Assembly who are not part of leadership.

Roll Call Vote: When each lawmaker states his or her vote when his or her name is called.

Short Debate: When debate is limited to five minutes.

Short Title: A one or two sentence description of a bill.

Sponsor: The lawmaker who drafts a bill and presents it to the General Assembly. A bill may have more than one sponsor.

State of the State Address: Given by the Governor on the second Wednesday in January, the Governor updates the General Assembly, State Supreme Court members, Constitutional Officers, and citizens of Illinois on the overall health of the State Government and the Governor’s plans for the upcoming year.

Synopsis: A brief written outline of what a bill proposes to do; it appears on the cover page of a bill.

Unfunded Mandate: When a law requires local agencies to provide a service or program, but provides no money to carry out the law.

Veto: An action of the Governor that kills an entire bill that has been sent to his desk.

Veto Session: The period of time the General Assembly returns to Springfield to consider bills the Governor has vetoed; it usually takes place in late November or early December.

Voice Vote: Used in committee and sometimes on the floor of a chamber; lawmakers signify their vote by saying ‘aye’ or ‘nay.’

Verification Vote: Used when there is a question as to the vote total when the vote has taken place by electronic voting. Each lawmaker’s name is called to verify that those who voted are in the chamber.