SPRINGFIELD — The winds of change ushered in with the November election of new lawmakers apparently have quieted down to a subtle spring breeze.

By Melissa Leu

SPRINGFIELD — The winds of change ushered in with the November election of new lawmakers apparently have quieted down to a subtle spring breeze.

In their first 100 days in office, freshman Senate and House members saw many of their proposals shot down or stalled in committees, resulting in low passage rates on measures in which they were the sole sponsor, 17 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, who had two out of 10 proposals passed out of the House, said he’s accomplished his goals thus far, despite his low batting average.

“We were given a choice, either focus on all of our bills or focus on priority bills. So I had to focus on bills that were a priority for my district,” said Jones, who concentrated on economic development and education.

Jones’ two plans — House Bill 212, which allows a tax reduction for certain property in a business corridor between poor communities, and House Bill 1415, which requires year-round sessions for poor-performing schools in his district — are under review in the Senate.

But more often than not, freshman lawmakers struggle to just get their ideas heard.

“I don’t kid myself. I have the same vote as everyone else, but I am a freshman. I am the first Republican elected in our district under this single-representative system, I’m in the minority and it’s redistricting year. So that’s not exactly a big recipe for legislative potency,” Rep. Richard Morthland, R-Cordova, said.

Morthland, who had the third-highest success rate of any freshman this session, said he’s faced roadblocks. In January, he called for a 10 percent legislative pay cut. His proposal died in committee, but the issue resurfaced in legislation sponsored by Democratic freshman Michelle Mussman, of Schaumburg.

Mussman’s House Bill 2891 passed 85-14.

Repeated calls to Mussman were not returned.

Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said he’s learned that proposals often get caught up in the “political process” of committee assignments and hearings.

“If leadership doesn’t want the bill to move, then it won’t move,” Sosnowski said.

Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, said building coalitions is key to getting ideas to the House floor for a vote. Four of his 11 bills have been passed by the House, after getting past the initial hurdles of the Assignments and Rules committees.

“When it’s assigned to committees like Assignments or Rules, a lot of times, it’s dead on arrival,” said Brown.

On the Senate side, Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, is taking her zero success rate in stride, saying she expects to sign on to other proposals that have made it to the floor.

“The number of bills my name is on is not as important as the quality of bills that are coming through. How will they help business? How will they create jobs?” Rezin said.

Jones, in the House, said it takes a lot of work to convince his fellow lawmakers to vote for his proposals.

“If you have two (respected) people that speak up in opposition to the bill … then everyone else follows along,” Jones said. “So, there are a lot of traditions and a lot of things that freshmen have to come in and learn.”

Jones, who calls his first few months a “learning experience,” was one of many freshman members who were “hazed” by their colleagues during the debate of their first proposed legislation. Experienced lawmakers pepper the first-timers with sometimes brutal questioning, and this year forced the freshmen to wear a red jacket when defending their first bill.

Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington, who was re-elected after an eight-year hiatus from the General Assembly, said his previous experience helped him pass three out of his 16 proposals.

“I knew what I was getting into. I knew what it’s like being in the minority. I didn’t have some of the expectations that perhaps some of the freshman legislators do, that they can achieve a whole lot right out of the box. It is a very slow moving process,” Harris said.

Harris served in the House from 1983 to 1993, a time when Democrats were also in control.

“Obviously, in terms of the political perspective, not much has changed,” Harris said.

Although he’s enjoyed his initial months as a lawmaker, freshman Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon, doesn’t see himself as a career politician.

“If I can’t do what I think is best for people and get that accomplished for my district and this state, I don’t intend to run for office (again),” Kay said.

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