SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A group of Illinois Senate Republicans introduced a new package of proposals to address corruption in Springfield Thursday.
They hope to enhance investigative authority within existing state laws and ensure lawmakers serve in the public’s best interest. The Republicans want to allow the Attorney General to assemble a statewide grand jury to investigate and prosecute misconduct of legislators and give state’s attorneys authority to wiretap officials. They also hope to pass a plan allowing the Legislative Inspector General to conduct investigations of lawmakers without prior approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission.
However, Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) says the caucus needs support from their Democratic colleagues. Democrats have previously promoted bills that could ban the “revolving door” for lawmakers becoming lobbyists. Another popular proposal would update rules for conflicts of interest in their annual statements of economic interests.
“We will be reaching across the aisle, and I do believe those members will embrace this. They want to see us have an improved image and live up to that image,” Tracy said. “So, we’re trying to set the bar even higher for legislators first.”
Stopping the culture of corruption
Republicans say lawmakers have to act on ethics reforms as soon as possible. The Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform heard many ideas throughout several hearings early into the spring session. However, the group hasn’t met in six months, and members don’t know when they’ll meet again.
“Was that a meaningful attempt to try to find out what the best ethics package should be and then move forward on that,” asked Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon). “Or was that attempt simply to try to swat the issue aside and hope that it goes away? Clearly, it’s not going away.”
Republicans noted Senate President Don Harmon recently established a state government accountability and ethics committee to address these issues.
“Our true hope is that we’re going to be able to get these bills either before that committee or another appropriate committee and get a fair hearing. We do believe that there will be interest, certainly in the Senate, on that happening,” said Sen. John Curran (R-Downers Grove).
Harmon’s Spokesman John Patterson said the Republicans have some interesting ideas.
“We look forward to them working with us to pass and enact meaningful ethics reform for the people of Illinois,” Patterson added.
“There are good people who are on the other side of the aisle who are just as embarrassed about the things going on,” Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) explained. “These are the type of things that we need in the toolbox now so that we can get the people’s faith back in Springfield once again.”