An obscure Springfield committee called the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) has been in the news lately, but most Illinoisans have never heard of it and don’t know what its members do. JCAR was actually formed by Mike Madigan during the Blagojevich years as a way to keep a leash on a Governor who often acted outside of his authority.
Whereas other General Assembly committees include membership that reflects the 2/3 legislative majority of Democrats over Republicans, JCAR is a panel of 12 legislators split equally with three members from each of the four legislative caucuses. It is a well-functioning, bipartisan and bicameral group. Any action by JCAR requires eight votes. This ensures that decisions are bipartisan.
When new laws are passed or Executive Orders (EOs) are issued by the Governor, the “rules” for how they will be implemented come before JCAR, which is responsible for ensuring that implementation and enforcement doesn’t conflict with existing law. JCAR doesn’t approve rules, but it can block or “suspend” them.
Typically, JCAR goes quietly about its business with little fanfare. But during the last two years, JCAR has had to rein in Gov. Pritzker on occasions when he overstepped his authority.
In the spring of 2020, Gov. Pritzker issued a rule that provided for criminal charges against businesses he deemed as “non-essential” that chose to open their doors. When the rule came before JCAR and it became evident his rule would be suspended, the Governor abruptly pulled the rule. Then, in the fall of 2021, JCAR stepped in again when the Governor and the State Board of Education implemented different mask enforcement rules for public and private schools. Public schools were afforded due process, but private schools could lose their recognition status on the same day they were notified of non-compliance. Ultimately, ISBE came back to JCAR with a rule that treated all schools equally.
The most recent showing of JCAR’s strength came in mid-February, when JCAR voted 9-0 to block the Governor from reissuing a school mask, vaccine, and testing mandate that a Circuit Court judge had ruled null and void because it violated due process rights for children and teachers.
For individuals keeping score, Gov. Pritzker has issued 111 COVID-19 EOs, and has extended the 30-day orders 25 different times. These orders were issued and extended without input or oversight from the coequal legislative branch of government. While majority party legislators seem fine with abdicating their responsibilities to the executive branch, at least JCAR is stepping in to intercede in the Illinois Governor’s most egregious instances of executive overreach.