Ethics commission chair says report is coming

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Ethics reform proposals will be released "in coming weeks" the co-chair of General Assembly’s ethics commission said Monday.

Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, made the comment the same day that Republicans on the commission demanded that meetings resume on crafting new ethics legislation in the wake of multiple state lawmakers facing federal charges for a variety of wrongdoing.

The Republicans said the commission hasn’t met since March 5 even though any number of other governmental bodies – including committees of the General Assembly – have managed to conduct business while taking precautions against the coronavirus.

The Joint Commission on Lobbying and Ethics Reform was formed last year in the wake of three state lawmakers facing federal charges. Former Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, was charged with bribery and tax fraud. Former Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was charged with bribery. Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was charged with embezzlement for being paid for a no-work job. Sandoval pleaded guilty and resigned. Arroyo resigned, but has not stood trial. Cullerton continues to serve.

Although there were numerous calls to pass ethics legislation during last year’s veto session, Democratic leaders opted to form the commission instead.

The commission stopped holding meetings after March 5 because of the pandemic. It missed an end of March deadline to deliver its recommendations. But Harris said Monday the plan is for the commission "to set a date in the coming weeks for a review of a final report and then whatever action needs to be taken."

He said a final report is in the process of being drafted which will then be submitted to the commission and made public.

"There’s then a period for review," Harris said. "There’s an opportunity for folks to file minority reports as well to cover other things that didn’t make it into the report."

He said the goal is to have ethics reform bills ready to be considered during the veto session in November.

Republicans have called on the Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. JB Pritzker to convene a special session to consider ethics reforms. Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said Monday that is still the best way to ensure that ethics legislation is put before lawmakers yet this year.

Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said Democrats are trying to "kick the can down the road as is so often the practice when it comes to true reforms in Illinois. They are going to simply try to play out the clock and pass the November elections."

Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, said Republican members of the commission sent a letter to Harris and co-chair Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, in July asking for meetings to resume. He said he was told meetings would resume soon.

"It has now been one month and one day since we sent that letter and I’ve had no further indication from either co-chair that a meeting will happen anytime soon," Windhorst said.

Harris said he spoke to Republicans on the commission about getting ethics legislation prepared, but did not offer a specific date for meetings to resume.

In addition to Cullerton, Arroyo and Sandoval being charged last year, Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, two weeks ago was charged by federal prosecutors with tax evasion. He remains in the Senate. Also, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was implicated in a federal investigation into Commonwealth Edison where the utility allegedly provides contracts and jobs to Madigan associates to curry favor with the Speaker. Madigan has not been charged with anything and has denied any wrongdoing.

"If we as a state government are going to regain the public’s confidence, we need to root out corruption and enact serious reforms," Windhorst said.

Both Democrats and Republicans have outlined similar lists of reforms that should be enacted. They include a ban on legislators serving as lobbyists, prohibiting lawmakers from immediately becoming lobbyists after leaving the legislature, fuller disclosure of outside income sources and giving additional powers to the Legislative Inspector General.

Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr

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via Lincoln Courier

August 25, 2020 at 09:06AM

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