Bipartisan group supports resolution amid ongoing federal investigations
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Amid an ongoing flurry of federal investigative activity pertaining to state government, a bipartisan group of lawmakers called for the creation of a task force to recommend greater ethical safeguards during a Statehouse news conference Monday.
“We’re not here to be the judge and the jury at all, we are here to start a conversation,” Rep. Tony McCombie, a Savanna Republican, said. “… We need the people who put us in office to be able to rely on us and trust us, and today, they can’t do that.”
McCombie is sponsoring House Joint Resolution 87, which would create a bipartisan task force to examine state ethics laws and how to better improve and enforce them.
That measure was assigned to the House Executive Committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. The General Assembly’s veto session began Monday, continues through Wednesday and resumes Nov. 12-14.
The task force would consist of one member of the governor’s staff and two members of the Republican and Democratic caucuses in each chamber appointed by their legislative leaders. It would have 90 days from the day the resolution passes to report to the General Assembly and governor with its recommendations.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, a Morris Republican, said she filed a similar bill in 2012, but it failed to gain support. What’s different this year, she said, is the number of corruption-related headlines emanating from state government.
“Obviously we are concerned with everything that’s being reported out there with the investigations going on and we will try again,” Rezin said.
Shortly after the news conference, news broke that Chicago Democratic state Rep. Luis Arroyo was arrested Friday on corruption charges. It was the latest development in a string of ongoing federal investigations of several Statehouse regulars that have yielded FBI raids and at least one indictment of a sitting senator, Democrat Tom Cullerton of Villa Park.
Those at the news conference Monday said the formation of the task force was bigger than any one party or politician.
“We’re not here to point fingers, we’re here to work collectively together and to take action together to bring back public trust. That’s it,” McCombie said.
Maurice West, a Rockford Democrat who has been in office since January, agreed with his Republican colleagues.
“This issue should not be a partisan issue. Matter of fact, it should not even be a bipartisan issue, this should be a moral issue,” West said.
While West was the only Democrat in attendance, he said he anticipated further support for the formation of a task force from his party.
Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican, promoted his House Bill 361, which would increase penalties for some ethics violations. That measure was introduced at the beginning of the regular legislative session but has not moved out of the House Rules Committee.
That bill would impose a fine of up to $200,000 for legislator lobbying and bribery violations, upping the penalty for bribery to a misdemeanor from a petty offense.
It would also create a $150,000 fine for any legislator who willfully files a false or incomplete statement of economic interest, a mandated document that lawmakers must submit each year.
It would also create a host of other fines, including for those who do not complete sexual harassment or ethics trainings.
“This bill is nothing more than an example of a starting point of a conversation that we all need to have to regain public trust and to get voters engaged in the process,” Wehrli said.
McCombie said the task force she is proposing would look at Wehrli’s bill and all others pertaining to ethics to form recommendations, and she would push for its passage during veto session.