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Shell bills, or why pro-gun groups suddenly care about cathode ray tubes

Thomas Clatterbuck

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As introduced, House Bill (HB) 0772 describes new rules about recycling cathode ray tubes. These tubes were commonly used in old TVs. Discounting the possibility this was a way to preemptively ban ray guns, why would pro-Second Amendment groups care about HB 0772?

Despite how it was initially introduced, the bill is not really about ray tubes or recycling at all. Instead, it was a shell bill, designed to create an opportunity to get other legislation to the house floor more easily. The real text under 0772 creates “lethal violence order of protections,” or a way for the state to seize someone’s guns without convicting them of a crime or even notifying them before hand. You can compare the original bill to its amended version to see just how different they are.

How did a recycling bill become a gun control bill? The process is very simple. Bills can be amended on the floor of either chamber to make changes to what the bill says. Theoretically, this is to facilitate compromise and new information that may not have been available in the initial committee hearing where the bill was discussed. However, there is a common phrase that can totally change what a bill does:

Amend House bill/Senate Bill # by replacing everything after the enacting clause with the following:

That phrase allows an otherwise mundane bill, like cathode ray tube recycling, to instantly become a controversial gun control bill. Amendments do not change a bill’s number or its sponsorship. That is why a bill’s sponsors, or supporters, are often changed after an amendment.

Why would anyone want to do that?

Normally, getting a bill onto the floor of either the House or Senate is a long and involved process. The bill has to pass through a committee hearing, where it will be discussed by a group of legislators who focus on that particular topic. This step allows bad bills to be weeded out, and good bills to be improved.  It also gives interest groups time to organize lobbying efforts either for or against the bill. Finally, committee members have to vote on the bill.

By using a shell bill, the real bill can skip that process. And there are legitimate reasons this might be necessary. Committees only have so long to pass bills to the full chamber for further discussion. If there was a catastrophe that needed additional funding, or a dangerous legal loophole was discovered late in the session, it would be too late to submit a new bill to address the topic. Having a shell bill on hand to address an emergency is valuable even if it skirts the normal rules.

But that is not what is happening here. The new bill creates a mechanism for depriving individuals of their rights and property without being charged with a crime, much less having a trial. It is up to the accused to prove they are innocent and should have their rights restored. There is a certain symmetry to using a shell bill, which circumvents the normal legislative process, to pass a law which would circumvent the normal judicial process.

Other outlets will talk more about the specifics of HB 0772, but the mechanics that allowed the new 0772 are a separate issue. Shell bills undermine the legislative process and defeat the purpose of having committees. If bills supported by the majority party get to skip the committee phase, then all committees get to do is copyedit the easy bills and kill bills proposed by the minority party. If committees were free, this would matter a lot less; but committee chairs get an extra $10,000 stipend for their trouble. That is a very expensive process to not use.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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Graves, Davis talk flooding at transportation summit

Thomas Clatterbuck

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When thinking about transportation infrastructure, it is easy to get focused on the roads we use every day. But for Congressmen Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Sam Graves (R-MO), waterways are another serious concern. This spring, both their districts suffered significant flooding. In Illinois, Calhoun County was completely cut off from the rest of the state. Their ferries had to close and the road into the county was washed out.

In Missouri, the flooding was often just as bad. Davis shared his story of telling Graves he had levies topped in Illinois, to which Graves responded he had 57 levy breaks. These breaks did more than just wash away buildings, whole roadbeds were reduced to craters. With the highway trust fund already scheduled to run dry by 2021, it is unclear where the funds to fix the damage will come from.

When asked why the flooding was so bad, Graves highlighted two issues. This spring saw record snow melts and rainfall. But Graves said management by the Army Corps of Engineers made the flooding worse along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The Missouri River has a series of seven reservoirs for flood mitigation. However, the Corps’ priorities for the river are fishing and recreation, rather than flood control; making the river run high. Once the rainfalls hit the already high Missouri, a flood along the Mississippi was all but inevitable.

Davis and Graves expressed further frustration with this situation because of Congress’ limited ability to direct the Corps of Engineers. Graves suggested there was widespread dissatisfaction with how the Crops manages rivers across the country, but said that with how the budget is set up, Congress has little direct control over how the money is spent. Davis said congressional leaders are looking to craft a bill to change these rules.

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Jacksonville hears proposals for municipal solar arrays and park grants

Staff Contributor

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Several new projects may be coming to Jacksonville. The Parks and Lakes committee discussed two state grants to improve local recreation. A 50-50 matching grant could provide up to $400,000 to help restore the Nichols Park pool. 

A second grant would provide funds to be used on the lakes. The committee decided that fixing the boat ramp area for Lake Mauvaisterre was the best use of the grant. Although lots of work has been into the lake, many boaters are reluctant to put their boats out due to the poor conditions of the launch ramps. Other projects were considered, but fixing the main point of entry for the lake was considered a prerequisite for any other recreation project. 

Both projects depend on a successful grant application, which will be submitted in the coming weeks.

Solar Plans

Next, Joe Christian from Simpleray came to discuss potentially adding solar arrays to the city’s water plants. These plants require large amounts of power and solar is one possible way of cutting down on these costs. They also have considerable amounts of open space, making them plausible candidates for solar arrays. 

The proposal calls for a 25 year deal with Simpleray, where they would install and operate the arrays, and sell power to the city. They want a locked-in rate that is currently below the market price. Based on Simpleray’s cost projections for electricity, the city could save over $2 million over the duration of the deal. At the end of the deal, the city would buy the arrays, which are projected to last for at least another ten or fifteen years.

There are some concerns with the deal. Technical questions remain about facility planning. New structures are planned at the treatment plants, and any new solar arrays would need to be built around both current and future structures. There were also finical concerns. 25 years is a long commitment for a utility price. Even though it is below projections, no one knows what the price of power will be in the future. 

The arrays themselves also had unknown costs. Since the city would take ownership of the arrays after 25 years, the city would be responsible for disposing of the panels once they reached the end of their usefulness. The Simpleray consultant was unsure how expensive it would be to dispose of the panels even under current regulations. Like many forms of electronic trash, it is not known what new rules may apply to solar panels in 25 or 30 years. 

Simpelray was interested in moving forward quickly, because there are Federal incentives that will expire at the end of the year. Despite some interest from the council, Alderman Wankel pointed out that the city’s engineers will need to examine the plan, and it may need to go out for a bid. Special Studies is planning a dedicated meeting to discuss solar options in the near future.

Ward 2 retirement

Monday’s meeting was also the last for longtime Alderman Tony Williams. Williams was recently reelected in April, but is moving out of the ward. Mayor Ezard will appoint his replacement, but there is no word on who will be selected to fill the term. 

You can watch the full workshop session in the player above.

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2019 Election

City Council hears final arguments, recommendations in Ward 2 recount

Thomas Clatterbuck

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The Ward 2 aldermanic race might set a new record for closest election that wasn’t a tie. The first full count showed Gail Simpson leading Shawn Gregory by a single vote. Gregory challenged the result and asked for a recount. Then the race got closer. After the recount, the recommendation of the hearing officer was to declare Simpson the winner by not one vote, but 0.361 votes.

During the recount, all of the ballots were inspected again. That further inspection revealed that some of the ballots had problems. A ballot that is not filled out correctly can be disqualified. One had two colors of ink, one was damaged and had to be reconstructed, and another had two candidates marked. These ballots were resolved on an individual basis.

But there were two sets of ballots that needed further discussion. The first were ballots where the election judge marked them in the wrong place. There is a line where the judge should put their initials so the tabulators know it is a valid ballot. Three ballots, all from the same judge, had marks near, but not on, the provided line. Two of them were for Gregory. They were not counted in the hearing officer’s recommendation.

Another group of ballots came from the Mary Bryant Home. The Mary Bryant Home is a community for the blind and visually impaired. Due to their conditions, many of these voters required assistance in filling out their ballots. To protect the integrity of the vote, especially with vulnerable populations, there are affidavits that must be filled out by the voter and the assistant to make the votes valid. For thirteen ballots, this did not happen.

However, the affidavits do not match specific ballots. To ensure voter privacy, the ballot cannot be directly tied to a specific voter. When the thirteen ballots were thrown out, each candidate had a proportional reduction in their count based on how well they did in each precinct. In the end, Simpson lost 4.278 votes, but Gregory lost just 2.639 votes. That closed the margin, but did not eliminate Simpson’s lead.

The real debate hinges on how comparable council members think these two types of errors are. John Mehlick, the hearing officer for the recount, considered both errors equally disqualifying. Although he stressed that he did not want to throw out any votes, he pointed out instructions were not followed on both. During his remarks to the council, Mehlick stressed that the council should demand “excellence” from its election judges and administrators.

Not everyone agreed with that logic. Questions from several aldermen suggested that they found the initials to be a far less serious breach of protocol than those on the affidavits. Others argued that disqualifying votes due to errors from election officials was not something they wanted to do, and argued both sets of ballots should be included.

The council’s decision

There are three likely outcomes the council could decide on. If both sets of ballots are eliminated, then Simpson wins. If both sets of ballots are kept, Simpson would still win. And if the affidavits are thrown out, but the initialed ballots are kept, then Gregory wins.

The choice is unenviable. Most of the time, standards are set without knowing how it will impact an election. Today, the council knows it is not just setting a standard to follow, it is also picking winners and losers in a democratic election. The Simpson team asked Alderwoman Turner to recuse herself due to her party’s endorsement of Gregory during the campaign. Turner agreed to this request, saying that if her stepping back would help the post-decision healing process in the community, then she would do so.

The rest of the council did not come to an agreement Tuesday night. Aldermen Redpath, Fulgenzi, Proctor, DiCenso, and Hanauer moved to accept the hearing officer’s recommendation, and declare Simpson the winner. Aldermen McMenamin, Conley, and Donelan, as well as Mayor Langfelder voted against, which prevented the motion from passing. Any motion will take 6 affirmative votes to pass.

The council will reconvene Thursday night to continue their discussion of the issue and come to an acceptable agreement. You can watch their full discussion in the player above, and read all of the documents from the recount here.

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