Caught on camera: Lawmakers play video games during budget debate

Investigation reveals diverted attention from some members

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - SPRINGFIELD -- Instead of eyes on the budget, lawmakers had their eyes on their phones.

When people vote a lawmaker into office, they’d expect them to always be focused on their job. But during a budget session in April, some lawmakers played video games during a major debate over higher education funding.

State Representative Mike Smiddy (D-Port Byron) was found playing a game at his seat, and he didn’t apologize for his divided attention.

"I knew about the higher education bill. I had been in caucus, I knew what it was going to do for my schools both Western and Blackhawk,” Smiddy said.

He was asked if playing the game gave a bad impression to voters, or if it was a mistake to pull out the app during a debate funding hundreds of millions to colleges and universities. Smiddy had no answer.

Another lawmaker, State Representative Katherine Cloonen (D-Kankakee) was seen playing Candy Crush during the same debate. She put it away after she saw our cameras overhead.

She said in a statement she's  "been focused on working to end the budget impasse." But she did not apologize or express any regret for playing games.

Sometimes lawmakers aren't even on the floor to vote. It's common practice for lawmakers to let others vote for them. State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) said lawmakers sometimes have good reason to leave the floor.

"For example, if there is a vote on school funding, we might step off the floor during the debate to get a superintendent to get more information and in those instances you might say, 'If the debate wraps up you, I'm a yes vote,’” Bennett said.

But while a momentary absence isn't controversial, most of the Senate Democratic Caucus was absent for almost an hour while a dozen or so votes took place.

Senate Democrats spokesperson John Patterson said the votes were unanimous and procedural. He said members were off the floor working out a deal with the house.

"The members were in the building, if we needed to get them back to the floor, we could have gotten them back very quickly,” Patterson said. “But there was a very important deal to help colleges that our members were off the floor working at that time."

State Senator Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) said if the opposition feels there are too many members absent, they can ask for verification.

"If they're not in the chamber when their name is questioned, their yes vote is taken off the board,” Righter said.

He said it was a sure way to keep members from staying out for long.

"I will tell you that's a very quick wake up call for people to get back on the floor,” Righter said.

There's an additional safeguard for lawmakers who have someone else vote in their place. Members can revise their vote at anytime during the session.

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