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In Re Belmont Fire Protection District

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 21, 1986.

IN RE BELMONT FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT ET AL. (TERRENCE VAVRA ET AL., APPELLANTS.

v.

BELMONT FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT ET AL., APPELLEES).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, the Hon. John S. Teschner, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

These two consolidated cases involve the constitutionality of "An Act to add Section 19a to `An Act in relation to fire protection districts.'" (Pub. Act 83-1454; Ill. Rev. Stat., 1983 Supp., ch. 127 1/2, par. 38.2a) (the Act). The circuit court of Du Page County found section 19a to be violative of the special-legislation provision of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, sec. 13). A direct appeal to this court was taken pursuant to our Rule 302(a)(1) (94 Ill.2d R. 302(a)(1)).

Section 19a of "An Act in relation to fire protection districts" is the General Assembly's effort to remedy the alleged dangers and disadvantages of multiple fire protection districts serving one municipality. Section 19a creates a mechanism whereby fire protection services within a given municipality may be consolidated into a single fire protection district. The relevant provisions of section 19a are:

"(a) In any county having a population of more than 600,000 but less than 1,000,000, territory located within the corporate limits of any municipality and which is included within the limits of any fire protection district may be disconnected from the district and transferred to another district providing fire protection service within such municipality and to which the territory is contiguous, in the manner hereinafter set forth * * *." Ill. Rev. Stat., 1983 Supp., ch. 127 1/2, par. 38.2a(a).

On January 3, 1985, two petitions were filed in the circuit court of Du Page County requesting a referendum for the purpose of voting for or against the disconnection and transfer of certain territory from the Belmont and Downers Grove Estates fire protection districts to the Lisle-Woodridge fire protection district. The petitions essentially set forth the requirements of the Act. See Ill. Rev. Stat., 1983 Supp., ch. 127 1/2, par. 38.2a(c).

The petitions were set for hearing on January 25, 1985. The Downers Grove Estates and the Lisle-Woodridge fire protection districts filed appearances on January 24. The Belmont fire protection district filed its appearance on January 25. The Belmont and Downers Grove Estates fire protection districts, as respondents, objected to the petitions and moved to dismiss the petitions on the ground that the classification restricting application of section 19a to counties with a population between 600,000 and 1 million violated the constitutional prohibition against special legislation.

At the hearing, counsel for the Belmont and Downers Grove Estates fire protection districts introduced maps of Kane, McHenry, De Kalb, Lake, Will, Sangamon, Winnebago, and Champaign counties showing fire protection districts and municipal boundaries. The authenticity of the maps was established. Counsel also introduced a certified copy of the April 1, 1980, population count for the 102 counties in the State of Illinois. According to this census, the four most populated counties in Illinois were Cook (5,253,190), Du Page (658,858), Lake (440,388) and Will (324,460). Counsel thus attempted to demonstrate by these exhibits that since municipalities in other counties of varying population were being served by multiple fire protection districts, the population classification was neither based upon any rational difference of situation or condition, nor was it rationally related to the object and purpose of the legislation.

The circuit court of Du Page County dismissed the petitions. The court found that the population classification did not bear a rational relationship to the objective sought to be accomplished by the legislation, thus violating section 13 of article IV of the Illinois Constitution of 1970. Petitioners filed notices of appeal to this court, in both cases. This court allowed petitioners' motion to consolidate on appeal. The village of Woodridge was given leave to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the petitioners' position.

Section 13 of article IV of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 provides:

"The General Assembly shall pass no special or local law when a general law is or can be made applicable. Whether a general law is or can be made applicable shall be a matter for judicial determination."

Section 13 replaced section 22 of article IV of the 1870 Constitution. Section 22 contained an extensive list of specific cases which were considered to be local or special in nature and thereby prohibited. Section 22 also contained a catchall statement: "In all other cases where a general law can be made applicable, no special law shall be enacted." (See Ill. Annot. Stat., 1970 Const., art. IV, sec. 13, Historical Note, at 244-45 (Smith-Hurd 1971).) Under the 1870 Constitution, the General Assembly was generally the final constitutional authority for determining whether a general law could be made applicable. G. Braden & R. Cohn, The Illinois Constitution: An Annotated and Comparative Analysis 222 (1969).

Section 13 of article IV of the 1970 Constitution eliminated the obsolete "laundry list" in the 1870 Constitution and retained the principle that the General Assembly may not pass a special or local act when a general act is or can be made applicable. Section 13, however, rejected the previous practice of deferring to legislative discretion in determining whether a general law could be made applicable. Under the 1970 Constitution, whether a general law is or can be made applicable is specifically provided to be a matter for judicial determination.

In Bridgewater v. Hotz (1972), 51 Ill.2d 103, this court, for the first time, decided the constitutionality of a statute on the basis of section 13 of article IV of the 1970 Constitution. After noting that the 1970 Constitution rejected the rule enunciated in earlier decisions of this court which held that whether a general law can be made should be a legislative rather than a judicial determination, this court concluded that "although the scope of judicial review of legislation is to that extent enlarged, section 13 requires no change in our definition of when a law is `general and uniform,' `special,' or `local.'" (51 Ill.2d 103, 110.) The Bridgewater court applied traditional equal protection tests which this court had used in evaluating the validity of legislative classifications under the 1870 Constitution. Although the constitutional inquiry under the 1970 Constitution is "[w]hether a general law is or can be made applicable," we ...


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