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June 19, 2013

Wanted: Committee compromise on Ill. pensions

(Continued)

SPRINGFIELD — —

But neither chamber approved the other's bill, and impasse again was the winner.

The conference committee can start meeting next week, said Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat like Madigan. It has six majority Democrats and four Republicans — five each from House and Senate.

"We would hope that there will be some new ideas, not just the same bills that have passed," Cullerton said. "We understand, everybody in our caucus realizes you have to reach a compromise in order to change to get enough votes to pass something. So we anticipate this won't be just a rehash of the same thing we've already voted on."

While it sounds like a transcendent step toward forging a pact, the conference committee was once a routine, and now perhaps anachronistic, means to meeting a constitutional goal that House and Senate versions of the same bill be identical, down to the last comma. The process goes like it went Wednesday with the pension legislation: The Madigan plan was attached to a Senate bill. The Senate refused to accept the change, and it went back to the House, which refused to pull back the Madigan version, setting up the conference committee.

"This isn't some magical process someone pulled out, and there's absolutely no parliamentary need for a conference committee," said Charles Wheeler III, a long-time Chicago Sun-Times legislative correspondent and now journalism professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. "But it's a way for people to save face and to make it look like something's happening."

The practice has taken a back seat in recent years to working out agreements ahead of time, different procedures for amending legislation, and fewer opportunities for lawmakers to offer amendments when a bill is ready for a floor vote.

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