Illinois Senate meets in private to hear budget woes
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[February 18, 2010]
SPRINGFIELD (AP) --
The Illinois Senate met behind closed doors Wednesday to
discuss the state's budget woes, prompting complaints that the
meeting was an illegal violation of the public's right to keep an
eye on public officials.
Both the Democratic majority and the Republican minority
met with experts from the National Conference of State Legislatures
for a briefing on how the recession is affecting state budgets.
Reporters and other observers were barred from the meeting.
President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Minority Leader Christine
Radogno, R-Lemont, agreed to close the meeting so that lawmakers
could ask questions without feeling undue scrutiny, said Cullerton
spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon.
NCSL covered the costs of the visitors, one traveling from
Washington and one from Denver, Phelon said.
She said the meeting allowed the Senate to "begin a bipartisan
dialogue about the state's fiscal condition," Phelon said.
"That's not how open democracy works," countered David Morrison
of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "It does not seem
like the right way to start the (budget) process if your goal is to
give the public the voice in state policy."
The Illinois Constitution requires public access to "sessions" of
both houses of the General Assembly and meetings of its committees.
Although the briefing was for all members of the Senate, Phelon said
the Senate was not in session or meeting as a committee.
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Public-access lawyer Don Craven of Springfield said legislative
rules allow for private political caucus meetings, but when both
groups come together, that's a Senate session.
"The problem here is, where does this practice end?" Craven said.
"They can meet in this way on any other issue."
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office offered no opinion. A
Madigan spokeswoman agreed with Craven that the state constitution
does not discuss caucus meetings and said study of the
constitutional convention's debates was necessary to determine what
Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, an NCSL executive committee
member, said there was also a practical reason: One meeting was
"more accommodating to our guests," eliminating the need for
separate presentations to each party's caucus.
By JOHN O'CONNOR]
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