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A look behind the legislative curtain with Sen. Barickman

Capitol News Illinois file
Sometimes watching the sausage (or laws) get made isn't that bad.

An old saying from the 19th century goes, "Laws are like sausages; it is best not to see them being made." Both processes can be messy and unattractive. It's not always that bad though.

Even though this is an election year and big controversial issues are unlikely to reach passage in Springfield, there are opportunities to get things done in the state legislature. Bloomington-Normal Republican State Sen. Jason Barickman said those tend to be measures on smaller things affecting people in his district.

“I'm working with a constituent actually right now who wants to legalize some type of scooters to be driven within city limits. This is a program that they (have) in some shape in Chicago. My constituents would like to see that expanded to other communities who might opt into it. So, I'm going to work on things like that,” said Barickman, speaking on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

The Town of Normal explored that idea several years ago, but gave it up because it is against state law everywhere but with the test program in Chicago.

Barickman said to be effective as a lawmaker, an elected representative or senator must think strategically and across party lines in some cases.

“There is a natural give and take. If you pay attention to it, there are always opportunities to maybe help someone who's trying to do something that's, you know, that you can help with. And in exchange for that, maybe they'll help you move a bill out of committee or even have a bill heard in committee,” said Barickman.

One recent example, Barickman said, of that wholesome legislative interaction concerned the brewing of a honey wine or liqueur called mead. A brewer in Dwight brought the issue to him because he wanted to sell his product on a small scale to people without going through a liquor distributor. Barickman said the measure passed the Senate, and promptly went nowhere.

“Someone had opposition to it, and whoever that was, was able to just kill it. One of my colleagues, a good friend, Bill Cunningham, who's kind of the deputy leader to the Senate president, Don Harmon, was familiar with the legislation. He had a bill regarding craft brewers. And I talked to him offline about, hey, maybe you can amend your bill to include my mead legislation. And together, we can help move the ball forward. Well, that in fact happened,” said Barickman. “And the folks back home didn't realize all the machinations that it took to get there. I was able to address the issue for my constituent which is, you know, a good day.”

Even controversial bills can have a place in an otherwise relatively sedate year for new laws.

Barickman hopes to use the probable failure of one such proposal as part of a longer game, saying he will re-introduce a measure to allow voters to recall the governor or legislative leaders, with protections in place to prevent abuse. That will allow him to monitor what candidates say about it on the campaign trail, said Barickman.

“Candidates go to a town hall or to a forum, where they're asked, What's your opinion on, you know, a recall provision, and the candidate says that they would support it? Well, now, I know that I've potentially added a vote to my measure because of what that candidate has said to their constituents. It doesn't always work that way. Sometimes, candidates say one thing and do another. But the fact that it's an election year gives me an opportunity to enhance my roll call. The legislative process is all about a game of addition. If I can add some votes, give my ideas more traction, it gives me a better shot to put them into place,” said Barickman.

Barickman said he works on up to a couple dozen pieces of legislation at any one time. Each has a separate committee that hears it. Each has a separate set of supporters and opponents. Barickman said a good staff keeps lawmakers up to date on key moments in the process, but he also carries around a spread sheet with relevant information on all his bills.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.