Illinois pension bill private signing questioned

December 6, 2013 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.)

Some are wondering why that bill was signed behind closed doors when many other bill signings are a public event.

When the governor signed the medical marijuana bill in August, there was considerable fanfare, speeches, signing pens passed out. The Marriage Equality Act was signed last month in an auditorium filled with people. In May, the governor signed legislation meant to crack down on flash mobs, and he did that on Michigan Avenue. But Thursday's signing of pension reform - both historic and politically explosive - was done in a private ceremony at the Thompson Center. No press - save for two still photographers from the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune. Why not a public signing for a measure of such importance?

"I don't know. I didn't schedule it. There's a gentleman in there called the governor. You can ask him," said State Rep. Michael Madigan, (D) House Speaker.

The governor didn't comment afterward. His office says there wasn't a political calculation to the private signing and that "this was a very serious piece of legislation to address the state's serious financial challenges. The governor wanted to sign it promptly and resolve the issue."

"Pat Quinn is an excellent politician. He realizes right now he is not exactly a poster child for public employee unions, but in time you move on, and why rub their faces in it?" said Prof. Paul Green, Roosevelt University.

Advisors to previous governors say there's always political consideration given to bill signing. What's the background? What's the risk? The benefit? When Pat Quinn signed legislation two years ago ending the death penalty, he did it in a private ceremony. This year he signed a bill that will outlaw statewide handheld cellphone use while driving come January 1, and he did so with no fanfare. Thursday was private, his office says, because the governor needed to move promptly.

"I would say this was a decision made by Pat Quinn - of Pat Quinn, by Pat Quinn, for Pat Quinn - shall not perish from the Earth," Green said.

Governor Quinn signed three bills into law Friday without a public event. His office says the overwhelming majority of the 600-plus bills he's signed this year are done in private. But clearly some bills have a much wider impact than others. A state website calls attention to 55 publicized bill signings this year. At least 42 of them included a news conference by the governor.

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