Ill. Senate meets in private to hear budget woes

February 17, 2010 3:46:22 PM PST
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 Council of State Legislatures for a briefing on how the recession is affecting state budgets. Reporters and other observers were barred from the meeting.

Senate 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.

It 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."

NCSL covered the costs of the visitors, one traveling from Washington and one from Denver, Phelon said.

The 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.

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."

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.

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On the Net
-- NCSL presentation: http://www.SenateDem.ilga.gov
-- NCSL: http://www.ncsl.org/


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