Against the backdrop of public corruption scandals plaguing Illinois government, the Illinois House passed two pieces of legislation to address the state’s insufficient ethics laws – House Joint Resolution 93 and Senate Bill 1639. State Representative Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) supported the legislation, but characterized them as convoluted and meager reforms when more could, and should have been done.
“While I supported the legislation today because a failure to take any action to address Illinois’ grossly lacking ethics laws would have been legislative malpractice, these pieces of legislation were meager improvements at best,” said Wehrli. “Only after being reluctantly forced to take action, did the leaders of the majority party finally allow something to happen. However, and unsurprisingly, not only they did they drop this on House members at the 11th hour last night, but they gutted or wholly ignored simple, common sense and bipartisan legislative solutions Republicans had already offered.”
House Joint Resolution 93, which creates the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, creates a commission of sixteen members to deliver a final report by March 31, 2020. However, it skews membership heavily in favor of Democrats, with only six commission spots being guaranteed for Republicans. The March 31 deadline also conveniently falls after the 2020 primary election.
Likewise, Senate Bill 1639 falls short with a weak and meager change to state lobbyist disclosure requirements, as well as failing entirely to address the problem of a sitting General Assembly member being able to lobby a local government.
“The fight for ethics reform is not over and nor should it be,” said Wehrli. “There was no reason not to take the basic action of preventing legislators from lobbying local governments or increase ethics violation fines that haven’t been increased for decades. The convenient decision to stall the new commissions report on additional action until after the March primary also raises questions. To actually restore a slim sense of public faith in the General Assembly, a lot more better happen in the spring.”
Republicans had filed nine ethics reform bills over the course of the last month, and several more back in the spring, but none received a hearing.