State lawmakers: Locals vote first on Rock Island courthouse

By Benjamin Yount   Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD  —  If Rock Island is going to build a new county courthouse, local voters, not state lawmakers, are going to have to give the go ahead.

Legislation that would have allowed Rock Island County to move ahead on its own and replace the county’s aging courthouse has been scuttled in Springfield.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, introduced the idea with the backing of Rock Island County leaders.  The county’s Chairman Jim Bohnsack and Chief Judge Jeffery O’Connor both made the trip to Springfield to  drum-up support for the idea, but ran into a number of lawmakers unwilling to bypass voters.

“I told the chairman and the chief judge it would probably be hard to pass (the plan) without an upfront, front door referendum,” Verschoore said. “But the people don’t understand what bad shape that courthouse is in. It’s actually falling apart inside.

One of those reluctant lawmakers is the Quad Cities’ new Republican, State Rep Rich Morthland, R-Cordova.

“What people are saying is ‘Lets have the discussion publicly.’  Let’s not let a bunch of Springfield legislators make the decision as to whether or not the county board can make the decision on its own.  Let the people decide through a public referendum,” he said.

The next time that could happen, though, won’t be until the March 2012 primary. Voters will go to the polls April 5, but the deadline for ballot items for this spring’s election was in December. 

Rock Island County board boss Bohnsack said a referendum may be inevitable, but he’s worried it may also be doomed to fail.

“If we have to go to the public, which we probably should, I think the judges will get the better case on why we need to (build a new courthouse),” said Bohnsack.

O’Connor acknowledges that voters are tough on referendum questions, but he said hopes he can count on support for law and order.

“I’d be happy to take it to a referendum, it’ll go up or down.  My question to the opponents, my question to the Legislature, my question to the populace is … assume it fails. How do you subject an indispensable building to defeat?” said O’Connor.

The judge doesn’t have an answer, though both he and Bohnsack said if the state is going to require that counties have certain buildings, then the state should help counties pay for them.

Verschoore isn’t sure that  will happen given the state’s fiscal problems. He said Rock Island’s current problem started with a simple mistake decades ago.

“The building commission, when they put it in place 30 years ago, they could have included a courthouse,” he said. “But they specifically said a jail, so that’s where their problem is.”

Technically Verschoore’s legislation is “being held” at the statehouse. But after it failed to get enough support on Thursday to clear its first hurdle, it is unlikely that it will get a second chance or a second vote. 

Originally reported by Illinois Statehouse News. Read the original article here.

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