State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)
Merger not the best move Currie and others oppose Rauner’s plan to merge two human services departments Under the State’s 1970 Constitution, governors have the authority to reorganize agencies under their control. But by a majority vote, either chamber of the General Assembly can reject the governor’s plan. Governor Bruce Rauner used that authority recently to try to combine the state’s Department of Human Rights with the Illinois Human Rights Commission. I filed a resolution in the House to disapprove the governor’s order. The House voted to block the merger.

The creation of the two agencies dates back to the era when Jim Thompson was governor. Harold Washington, then a state senator and later mayor of Chicago, sponsored the legislation. As with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, we sought to separate the investigative activity from the adjudicative. Complaints of unfair treatment in employment, housing and other areas are filed with the Department. The department investigates the complaint and, if warranted, refers the matter to the commission for adjudication. Of course, along the way, the department can try to mediate between the parties and encourage a settlement. But when that fails, the commission has the authority to resolve the issue.

Think about the different roles of the police and the courts. The police investigate, and, if they think there is merit, take their findings to the state’s attorney who then decides whether to take the case to court. The investigator does not have the final word, the investigator is neither the judge nor the jury.

Unfortunately, the governor’s Executive Order didn’t make clear how he would merge the agencies or how it would work. He’s right that there’s a substantial backlog of cases. I would be happy to work with the governor to find a way to make the process more efficient. But I’m not prepared to make the process less fair by denying the due process rights of those who believe they are victims of race, gender, age, sexual orientation and disability discrimination.

It may well be that there are alternative institutional arrangements that can work more effectively and still preserve due process rights for complainants. We’re willing to look at models from other cities and states. But we’re not willing to accept Rauner’s ‘trust me’ approach.

Joining me in opposition to the merger were the Cook County Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, AFSCME, Planned Parenthood, Equality Illinois, the Mandel Legal clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, and the ACLU.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)