A woman who has pushed lawmakers to address problems with harassment in state government wants the governor to use his veto power to change one part of the omnibus package legislators passed before leaving for the summer.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 75, which includes changes to how the private sector handles sexual harassment complaints.
“This is a sexual harassment omnibus bill,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, as she laid out the various provisions of the bill.
“The Workplace Transparency Act … provides unilateral confidentiality and arbitration provisions related to harassment and discrimination,” Bush said. “It expands protections against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace for contract employees generally referred to as independent contractors or consultants who are not currently protected under the law.”
The measure also requires panic buttons in hotels for cleaning staff to use if they feel threatened. But it doesn’t just deal with private businesses, it also deals with the public sector.
“[The measure] gives the [Legislative] Inspectors General additional time to investigate and file complaints with the [Legislative] Ethics Commission,” Bush said. “[The bill] guarantees complainants alleging sexual harassment, discrimination or harassment to the Executive Inspector General and Legislative Inspector General rights including notice and required feedback, ability to submit testimony and evidence during a hearing, and review portions of a founded report prior to the reports public release.”
In 2017, Illinois citizen Denise Rotheimer’s abuse of power complaint against a state Senator sat on a shelf for nearly a year while the office of Legislative Inspector General was vacant. She’s been fighting for more than a year for complainants to have rights in the process. She said she’s pleased to see some rights would be granted to complainants. However, she objected to a provision that levies a $5,000 penalty if a complainant releases any information before the Legislative Ethics Commission gives the green light. That silences the complainant's voice, Rotheimer said.
“They just wanted to make sure that they could find ways to silence victims, keep everything in their control, control the narrative, rather than provide the dignity and common courtesy that was intended,” Rotheimer said. “On one hand, they’re saying you should have a right to speech, but then when it comes to the portion of the bill that pertains to the rights that I authored, they want to say to the victim ‘if you speak we’re going to hammer you with a $5,000 fine.’ It’s a contradiction.”
Another area targeted by reformers was a requirement that the Legislative Inspector General must get permission from a panel of state lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission before publishing founded reports. That was not addressed in the omnibus package.
“The whole purpose and intent of the State Officials and Employee Ethics Act is to make the public aware of public reports when there’s been a violation of the act and yet there are still ways they want to maintain control over the secrecy,” Rotheimer said.
Rotheimer said it’s great some complainants will have rights, but she intended for all complainants to be covered.
“There’s abuse of power, there’s retaliation, there’s misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance,” Rotheimer said were excluded from giving rights to such complainants. “I also had a complaint against the Legislative Ethics Commission for nonfeasance. There are other violations of law that are covered under the state official and employee ethics act.”
Rotheimer said the measure she was working on with state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray was taken from them by legislative leaders and distorted into what passed both chambers in the final days of the overtime session.
“I intended for all these rights to be for all complaints to eliminate the culture of corruption, not just make them available to a select population, but that was the ultimate decision of the legislature and more work needs to be done,” Rotheimer said.
She wants the governor to use his veto authority to remove the $5,000 fine from the measure.