Parents' rights referendum won't go to voters, but Coalition says Dems' ballot-blocking power play shows 'momentum'

Click here for the original article.

Credit to Jonathan Bilyk at the Cook County Record

After six months of circulating petitions, the Parents Matter Coalition said it had collected more than 102,000 signatures from Illinois voters seeking to place a measure on the ballot this fall to urge lawmakers to consider the rights of parents when drafting legislation and making laws affecting children across the state.

That amount falls far short of the 328,000 signatures from registered voters they would have needed to present to the state's elections board to give voters the chance to officially weigh in.

But Illinois' state General Assembly - dominated by a Democratic supermajority - appears to have decided not to even take the chance of allowing the question to go before voters, and potentially suffering an embarrassing loss on a hot-button issue, as they crammed through secretive, surprise legislation that all but blocked the so-called Parents Matter initiative or any other questions from the November 2024 election ballot.

Tracy Smodilla |

"It's pretty obvious," said Tracy Smodilla, spokesperson for the Parents Matter Coalition. "They didn't know how many signatures we had, and we kept that information close to the vest. But they were using this as insurance to preclude Parents Matter from the ballot. 

"And it speaks to who the Illinois Democratic Party is today. It's not enough for them to have a supermajority. They want to crush us, and do so in a very public way."

In early May, the Democratic supermajority in the Illinois General Assembly passed controversial new legislation. Designated as Senate Bill 2412, the legislation accomplished two primary goals.

First, SB2412 rewrote state election rules, effective immediately, blocking political parties from slating candidates to run for office after the primary election, unless they first had run in the primary election. Under the previous rules, parties who had no official nominee for a particular elected office after the spring primary election had until June 3 to select a candidate to serve as the nominee.

Republicans in particular had sought to use that process to choose candidates to run against Democratic incumbents, including in some potentially vulnerable districts downstate. However, under the new rules, the GOP would be blocked from using that process, likely allowing a number of Democratic lawmakers to run unopposed in November.

The rules would also apply to Democrats. But observers have noted the changes are particularly beneficial to incumbents.

Gov. JB Pritzker praised the legislation as needed "ethics reform," saying it does away with secret backroom deals between potential candidates and party leaders, while forcing would-be candidates to seek voter approval in primary elections. Pritzker signed the legislation May 3, less than 48 hours after his Democratic allies used legislative tactics to rush the measure through both houses of the General Assembly.

Republicans and others have cried foul, calling the measure anti-democratic and saying it amounted to the Democrats seeking to steal elections by using their supermajority status to change election rules in the middle of an election cycle.

In comments on the state Senate floor, Senate Republican Leader John Curran said the law is "how you steal an election."

"Democrats can say what they want, but this isn't about updating processes or cleaning up rules. It's about putting their thumb on the scales of democracy to change the outcome of our elections," Curran said.

Republican lawmakers opted to vote "present" on SB2412, to register a protest of the Democratic power play move.

In addition to the changes to candidate selection rules, SB2412 also included provisions moving to place three so-called advisory questions on the ballot. The questions would ask Illinois voters to weigh in on such questions as whether election workers should be entitled to greater protections from harassment under the law; whether the state constitution should be amended to allow Democrats to raise taxes on people earning more than $1 million per year, in exchange for property tax relief; and whether health insurers should be required by law to provide limitless coverage for in vitro fertilization.

As advisory questions, the results of those votes would be non-binding.

But Illinois election law has set a limit of three on the number of advisory referendum questions that can be placed on statewide ballots. Further, courts have interpreted the law to give greater deference to referendum questions generated legislatively, rather than those filed by citizen groups who have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures from Illinois voters.

Thus, the three questions placed on the ballot by Illinois Democrats effectively block out all other referendum questions, including the Parents Matter question, even if it had secured the number of voter signatures required to place it on the ballot.

The Parents Matter advisory referendum had sought to place a question on the ballot asking voters: "Shall the written consent from a minor's parent or guardian be required before any entity, person, clinic or school can provide a minor (under the age of 18 years) any non-emergency medical procedure, medication, pharmaceutical, or any gender modification procedure, gender identification counseling or gender therapy?"

The Parents Matter Coalition said the question was intended to allow voters to send a message to Springfield about the years of legislation and bureaucratic rule changes implemented by state lawmakers and officials that the Coalition said have been anti-family and which trespass on parents' rights to raise their children.

Smodilla said these have included laws and regulations that she said have given school officials and others the ability to enable minors to get abortions, receive contraception and transition genders without informing parents or obtain their consent.

She said these medical procedures, some of which are life altering or irreversible, are being performed at times on minors as young as 10 years old, in some instances.

She further noted state law and school rules allow minors to receive mental health counseling sessions without parental consent or notification.

Smodilla and the Coalition say their concerns have largely fallen on deaf ears in the Democrat-dominated General Assembly, which has firmly backed left-wing policy goals, including easy access to abortion and childhood gender transition procedures, even without parental consent.

Smodilla noted such moves by the state to step between parents and their children consistently polls poorly. She said political polling indicates the Parents Matter referendum would have performed well, if it had landed on the ballot, potentially embarrassing Pritzker and other Democrats who assert their supermajority status in Springfield means the people of Illinois are in full support of their social and legislative agenda.

"We're not saying we're going to overturn abortion rights or anything of that sort," said Smodilla. "We're specifically asking people if they think parents should get blocked out on these questions."

Legal challenges to SB2412 could soon land in court. As of May 10, no lawsuits challenging the law have been filed.

Since the Parents Matter referendum did not achieve the number of required signatures, the organization would be an unlikely candidate for such a lawsuit. Rather they would likely come from Republican candidates denied a place on the ballot under the new rules.

But Smodilla said the Coalition is evaluating its next steps following SB2412. She said the Coalition particularly will turn to electoral advocacy, seeking to monitor and oppose legislation they find objectionable and seek to defeat lawmakers who would seek to continue pushing laws and regulations that the Coalition believes would trample parents' rights.

She said the group may also try again to place a question on the ballot. She noted such citizen-generated referendum questions can require 18-24 months worth of work to secure the number of signatures required.

While the Parents Matter referendum won't be on the ballot this fall, Smodilla said the Coalition is "not done" in Illinois, and has "momentum."

She said the response from Democratic lawmakers to block the measure from the ballot further confirms that view.

"We're talking about Democrats, these 'self-appointed arbiters of democracy and freedom,' who rushed through this legislation at the 11th Hour, seeking to do nothing less than to squelch the voices of well over 100,000 voters, using legislative games," said Smodilla. "We're really building not just success, but momentum."

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Parents' rights referendum won't go to voters, but Coalition says Dems' ballot-blocking power play shows 'momentum'

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