Veto Session Drama

Nothing much has been happening in Springfield.

A hell of a lot has been happening in Springfield.

These two statements say opposing things. These two statements are both true. To understand how this can be, you have to look beneath the surface.

Let’s start with the first statement. The year 2020 started off normally enough with the Illinois Legislature convening on January 8 for what was expected to be a five-month session through the end of May. But then COVID-19 happened. Activities were suspended on March 16th and the legislative session was cut short. The Legislature met again briefly from May 20th to 23rd, but did not meet after that until January 6, 2021 for a very brief, and also delayed, lame duck session. More on that ahead…

As we all now know, the real story behind this official inaction was the erupting scandal involving Speaker-For-Life Mike Madigan and ComEd.

The official reason for all this inaction and delayed Veto Session was COVID-19. But, unofficially, there was a lot of Sturm und Drang going on behind the scenes, well beyond the walls of the State Capitol.

As we all now know, the real story behind this official inaction was the erupting scandal involving Speaker-For-Life Mike Madigan and ComEd, the electric utility serving the Chicago area and much of northern Illinois. Although he still denies he did anything improper, there is little doubt that Speaker Madigan was intimately involved in a pay-to-play arrangement whereby ComEd provided well-paid jobs to political cronies in exchange for millions of dollars of rate hikes approved by – who else – Mike Madigan and the Illinois Legislature.

This proved to be one step too far for just enough Democrats in the General Assembly that, when the time came to elect a new leader, there was real doubt about whether or not that leader would be Mike Madigan.

One of Madigan’s strategies to maintain power was to keep the Legislature from meeting at all while he worked behind closed doors to salvage his position. Try as he might, his efforts came to naught. Representative Chris Welch, representing the 7th District (near west suburbs of Chicago) was elected the new Speaker – and first African-American Speaker – on January 13th. In Springfield, this was the equivalent of a Tsunami. Until that January 13th election, Madigan had held the Speaker position for all but two years since 1983.

But there was another drama unfolding in Springfield that is not nearly as well known, but that is at least as consequential (probably more so) to property owners and the housing industry generally.

Now, this is all very interesting stuff in its own right. But there was another drama unfolding in Springfield that is not nearly as well known, but that is at least as consequential (probably more so) to property owners and the housing industry generally. Most of this other drama played out behind closed doors with little public involvement, and even less public awareness. And before anyone really knew what was going on, the battle was over and the drama resolved.

Well, actually, thanks to the ever-vigilant NBOA and other housing industry advocates, the about-to-unfold drama was not a complete secret. Not that the Democratic Socialists and their allies didn’t try to keep everything hidden. Fortunately, word got out that they were organizing behind the scenes to introduce more legislation that would make it impossible for housing providers to manage their buildings in a way that all residents and customers demand.

First elected in 2019, Ms. Ramirez joins Will Guzzardi, also representing Logan Square, as a staunch advocate for tenants’ rights and foe of property owners and the housing industry.

As it turns out, during the brief May 20-23 session, this same group of housing advocates tried to push a housing agenda that was so aggressively detrimental to our industry that it was not even allowed to come up for a vote. But these guys don’t give up easily, and they were at it again when the Veto Session finally began on January 6th.

To condense a very intense week of Veto Session skirmishing into a few paragraphs, let’s start with 4th District State Representative, Delia Ramirez. Where is the 4th District, you might ask? Would you be shocked to learn that it is on the near Northwest Side of Chicago which includes West Town, Humboldt Park, and parts of Logan Square? And, what do we know about these neighborhoods? That they have all been virtually taken over by the Democratic Socialists and like-minded folk, both in the City Council, and at the Illinois General Assembly.

These quick-thinking and hard-working housing industry advocates managed to convince policy makers that this was not the time to add increased regulation to an industry that has been providing free services for most of the past year.

First elected in 2019, Ms. Ramirez joins Will Guzzardi, also representing Logan Square, as a staunch advocate for tenants’ rights and foe of property owners and the housing industry. In her short time in the General Assembly, Ms. Ramirez has emerged as one of the leaders in the fight to overturn the statewide ban on rent control, and has advocated for a host of other pro-tenant measures.

But she outdid herself as the Veto Session approached, preparing a 33-page bill in coordination with other politicians and activists, that contained a large number of policies which would have made it impossible for housing providers to manage their buildings. It included an eviction moratorium that would have lasted almost all of 2021 and provisions to seal eviction records from public view. Other provisions would have included forcing housing providers to accept pennies on the dollar in unpaid rent and a laundry list of new regulations for property owners. Strange, isn’t it, that this legislation did not contemplate any new responsibilities for tenants?

Without the full approval of both Houses and the Governor’s signature, the bill died and the entire process will have to begin anew when the next Legislature convenes in a few weeks’ time.

The housing advocates claimed that these measures were essential during the COVID-19 crisis and that, without them, tenants were at risk of mass evictions and abuse at the hands of ruthless property owners. When the housing industry pointed out problems in the legislation (remember, this legislation was supposed to be in response to the COVID crisis), housing advocates volunteered that the language was the result of years of work and, anyway, the housing industry should just play nice and accept them.

Fortunately, advocates for property owners and the housing industry, including Mike Glasser and the NBOA, got wind of this bill. As a result, they were able to educate policy makers of the unintended consequences of the legislation which would further destabilize the housing industry after an already brutal year.

It was not an easy battle. Alliances in the State House were very much up for grabs during this unsettled time – in no small part due to the turbulence surrounding Speaker Madigan and his desperate attempts to cling to power as a host of other, ambitious politicians were lining up to replace him.

Making a very long story short, Clint Sabin and Myk Snider, both of Fifth Star Public Affairs – the PR Firm retained by the NBOA to advocate on behalf of small property owners – flew into action, along with other representatives of the housing industry.

I guess you could say, the battle is won, but the war is far from over. The tenant advocates are loud, organized, and aren’t afraid to misrepresent truth to get what they want.

These quick-thinking and hard-working housing industry advocates managed to convince policy makers that this was not the time to add increased regulation to an industry that has been providing free services for most of the past year. Compromise legislation was offered to the housing advocates, and just as quickly rejected, for reasons we may never understand. The advocates instead pushed a slimmed down version of their agenda that proved to be much less detrimental to our industry, if admittedly still not something that we wanted.

While the General Assembly did approve the slimmed down version, the Veto Session ended before the Senate could approve it and send it to the Governor for signature. Without the full approval of both Houses and the Governor’s signature, the bill died and the entire process will have to begin anew when the next Legislature convenes in a few weeks’ time.

The bottom line? The housing industry dodged another bullet. The bad news? Man, those bullets have been flying, and the shooters’ aim keeps improving!

I guess you could say, the battle is won, but the war is far from over. The tenant advocates are loud, organized, and aren’t afraid to misrepresent truth to get what they want. Expect rent control to be back on the ballot this spring, with Will Guzzardi once again leading the charge. There will also be renewed efforts to freeze evictions for an extended period of time, seal eviction records, and limit the abilities of housing providers to meet the needs of their residents by offering safe, clean, and healthy homes.

The Chicago City Council is also going to be very busy this year, finding new ways to force housing providers to provide an already heavily regulated service with new and ever more ruinous restrictions and requirements. For that story, keep reading this Newsletter. There’s lots more to tell.