Lawmakers back in Springfield Thursday to consider ethics reform

Politics

A do-over in Springfield is set to take place Thursday, as Democratic leaders say they will try again to approve ethics legislation that people on both sides of the aisle call ‘watered down.’

The Illinois House is back in Springfield to consider urgent energy legislation. But what about ethics reform?

“We will be voting on that AV tomorrow, we will have all of our members there and I’m sure it will be approved,” said Democratic Majority Leader Greg Harris.

Last week, the House rejected Governor Pritzker’s amendatory veto (AV) of an ethics bill that passed in May, throwing its fate into question.

Harris says although Democrats can pass it with their supermajority, he hopes Republicans go along with it. 

“This is a first step,” Harris said. “There are other steps we’ve got to take and this will be an ongoing effort.”

Senate Bill 539 came in the wake of scandals involving the lobbying activities of ComEd. Governor JB Pritzker used his amendatory veto powers to send the bill back to lawmakers for a technical change.

The legislation changes the role of the legislative inspector general, giving that person authority to launch investigations but only after a formal complaint is filed. The bill restricts investigations to matters concerning government service or employment. Also, the measure would require additional disclosures on personal financial forms. It also mandates lawmakers wait six months before becoming lobbyists if they leave in the middle of a term. But a former member can lobby a new General Assembly immediately after their term expires.

Good government groups slammed Senate Bill 539, however. They didn’t buy lawmakers’ talking point that baby steps are better than no reform.

On Wednesday, Republicans, who joined with Democrats voting in favor of the legislation in May before voting against it last week, unloaded.   

“Most concerning to me and to our caucus is the lack of independent of the legislative inspector general,” said State Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Litchfield). “If we’re ever going to get true and meaningful anti-corruption reforms in Illinois and true accountability for politicians, we need an independent legislative inspector general.”

“I think the greatest crisis that we face on all levels of government currently is the fact that people don’t trust us anymore,” said State Rep. Mike Marron(R-Danville).

Even the Springfield Watchdog slammed the ethics reform. 

This summer, Carol Pope resigned, saying in a letter to lawmakers, “true ethics reform is not a priority” and that her position has “no real power,” it’s essentially “a paper tiger.”

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