House OKs Hoffman bill requiring referendum to close fire departments

News-DemocratApril 8, 2014 

State Rep. Jay Hoffman.

DERIK HOLTMANN — dholtmann@bnd.com

— A bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Hoffman that would make it harder for cities to close their fire departments won approval Tuesday in the Illinois House.

The measure, approved by a vote of 93-20, would require cities and villages to hold a referendum if they want to close a fire department. The bill now goes to the Senate.

"If a fire district is going to be dissolved in a municipality or a village, the voters will have a say," Hoffman told fellow legislators.

The bill was opposed by the Illinois Municipal League and some other city groups. They generally oppose bills that take city labor decisions out of the hands of city leaders.

Hoffman, D-Swansea, said the bill is an initiative of the Associate Fire Fighters of Illinois, a labor group for firefighters.

"It simply says that if you want to dissolve a fire department, voters get to decide," Hoffman said. "If you want to work together with another municipality, you can do that. You can do that by an intergovernmental agreement -- it doesn't say you can't do that."

Hoffman said fire districts, as opposed to municipal fire departments, already are required to hold a referendum in order to shut down.

Pat Devaney, president of the firefighter association, said Tuesday the legislation is not about making it harder to lay off firefighters, it's about letting voters have a say in their emergency services.

"We believe a decision with consequences that dire ... should be put before the voters in a referendum," Devaney said. He added that there should be nothing wrong with requiring elected city leaders to "simply go out and get affirmation" from voters before making such a decision.

Hoffman has said he's not aware of any metro-east municipalities wanting to close their fire departments. Devaney said the only example he could recall was from a few years ago, when Centralia considered closing its fire department.

The bill is HB4418.

Last week the House passed another bill that would impact local officials' operation of fire departments. House Bill 5485 would make minimum staffing requirements for fire departments one of the factors that an arbitrator could decide during labor negotiations between firefighters unions and city leaders.

Here's how metro-east House members voted on Hoffman's bill:

* Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton: Yes

* Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem: Yes

* Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton: Yes

* Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: Yes

* Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis: Yes

* Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Cabon: No

* Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: Yes

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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