Op-ed: Illinois General Assembly has the chance to act on meaningful ethics reform

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Illinois lawmakers have a unique opportunity next year to tackle corruption by empowering the legislative inspector general and strengthening our ethics laws.

During the late hours into the spring legislative session, advocates fought for reforms within our state ethics system. While the new law is an important first step in addressing the issues in Illinois, they fell short of meaningful reform. In return, Inspector General Carol Pope resigned in protest.

Bryan Zarou, director of policy, Better Government Association

Illinois has an unfortunate history of corruption at all levels of government. Reformers sought to create a one-year revolving door policy that would prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists so soon after leaving office — the General Assembly agreed on six months. Reformers sought more power for the legislative inspector general — the General Assembly approved minor improvements — little more than window dressing, really — by allowing the IG to open investigations without permission, albeit without any subpoena power.

While these steps modestly improve on decades-old problems, there still is much more to be done. My message to lawmakers — stay the course.

More:Legislative inspector general to quit, says ethics reform ‘not a priority’ for lawmakers

In every profession, there are those who abuse their power. That’s no different in politics. Over the last few years, we have witnessed prosecutors charge current and former politicians with crimes such as corruption, ethics violations and bribery.

The actions of a few do not have to define the General Assembly as a whole.

There are many lawmakers in Springfield who have every intention of doing what they think is right for their constituents and for the state of Illinois. We need those lawmakers to make a meaningful attempt at strengthening key ethics laws, and this could start with empowering the role of the legislative inspector general.

The General Assembly’s next attempt at ethics reform must be so strong that it does not cause yet another resignation from the future holder of the office of legislative inspector general. The next bill must include a longer revolving door policy, create stronger financial disclosure laws, and ban lobbying by elected officials.

The lack of serious action on ethics reform calls into doubt the good intentions of lawmakers and taints their body of work. After all, ethics touches on everything government does.

More:Ethics bill clears Illinois House, heads back to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk

The fall veto session has come and gone without any reference to meaningful ethics reform. But a new session is coming, in an election year, and what better way to tell the people of Illinois that the General Assembly is working for us, the people, than by empowering the new legislative inspector general with rules and laws that allow them to work independently of the legislature. This would be a clear signal telling voters corruption has no place under the dome in Springfield.

Gov. JB Pritzker also has weighed in on the future of any sort of ethics legislation. In signing the ethics bill this summer, he stated “I remain committed to making further advancements so the well-connected and well-protected cannot work the system to the detriment of working families across Illinois."

The governor knows that restoring public confidence in government is a priority, one that would work well in an election year. Perhaps in the 2022 session, he will show leadership on ethics more forcefully than he did in 2021.

Not to say that there hasn’t been a good start to answering long-term issues that plagued the General Assembly like leadership term limits and preventing the concentration of power in one person — Speaker Welch and President Harmon are setting the example of leading their chambers for no more than 10 years.

The people of Illinois crave good government, and the General Assembly would benefit from meaningful reforms in response to a historic wave of corruption in the last two years. The General Assembly can finish the work it began last spring — and meaningful empowerment of the inspector general’s office would be a good place to start.

Bryan Zarou, is director of policy for the Better Government Association.

via The State Journal-Register

November 5, 2021 at 07:05AM

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