FILE - Martin Sandoval, federal raid

Men carrying boxes and a bag marked "evidence" leave the Illinois State Capital in Springfield in this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo.

A former state lawmaker who pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting $250,000 in bribes in exchange for using his legislative weight to unilaterally stop bills from advancing often assigned measures to a subcommittee that had no members, essentially ensuring those measures wouldn't advance.

“Protector” is what former state Sen. Martin Sandoval described himself as he made his pitch, unknowingly, to a federal informant tied to red light camera company SafeSpeed. 

“I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I’m telling you the vultures would be all over that [expletive] [red-light cameras] if you had the wrong person there,” Sandoval told the informant. “I think the protector aspect, it never changes.”

As the chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Transportation Committee, Sandoval had the authority to protect the red-light camera industry. The chairman of a state legislative committee is able to decide if bills are called or not. They also reserve the right to delegate legislation to a subcommittee. 

One of the Transportation Committee’s subdivisions is the Subcommittee on Special Issues. While a number of bills that passed through Sandoval’s legislative docket might belong in that position, being a sponsor of a bill sent there was an indication that it was dead for one simple reason: The subcommittee has no members

While there’s no record of whether members could spontaneously staff the committee to vote on a bill, former state Sen. Dan Duffy, a Barrington Republican, said the practice was commonplace. 

“[Some] subcommittees don’t even meet and some don’t even have any members,” he said. “Bills go to subcommittee in Illinois to die.” 

Duffy ran head-on into Sandoval’s legislative parlor when he was trying to pass a ban on red-light cameras for non-home rule municipalities in May 2016, when he allowed the bill to be called, only to have former Senate President John Cullerton make the rare move of personally testifying on the bill. Cullerton presented video of Duffy getting two tickets at red light camera-equipped intersections. Duffy’s bill died in that committee. This was the same year that Sandoval solicited $20,000 in campaign donations from a red light camera company reportedly believed to be SafeSpeed.

Below is a list of legislation sent to the Subcommittee on Special Issues in 2019:

Senate Bill 22 would have allowed the owner of a car dealership to choose the day they are closed. Another amended bill was tabled in the same manner.

Senate Bill 55 would have changed restrictions on background checks for rideshares. 

Senate Bill 88 would have allowed school district employees to transport students in special cases with adequate insurance.

Senate Bill 198 would have allowed local units of government to spend motor fuel tax revenue to support electric vehicle use, by creating charging stations, for instance. 

Senate Bill 1141 would have required a study on the environmental and health issues tied to noise pollution from O’Hare International Airport. 

Senate Bill 1334 would have removed the daylight car headlamp requirement in state law.

Senate Bill 1338 would have added a requirement on school buses to have an extended arm for crossing. 

Senate Bill 1353 was opposed only by two local Teamsters unions. It would have restricted the ways that the Illinois State Police may have received state road funds. 

Senate Bill 1523 would have strengthened the laws against drivers who linger in the left-hand lane when not passing another driver. 

Senate Bill 1531 would have done away with the front license plate requirement in Illinois. 

Sandoval isn’t the only one to do this, however. 

Senate Bill 164 would have given teachers who taught at private schools time served toward a public pension. It was sent to another unmanned subcommittee.

Sandoval himself sponsored House Bill 3522, which passed unanimously, but was delegated to the Committee on Government Accountability and Pensions Subcommittee on Special Issues, which also had no members. It would have given portability to in-state firefighter pensions.

The Illinois House of Representatives has been criticized in the past for its use of the House Rules Committee as a gatekeeper of sorts. A bill must be assigned from House Rules to another committee before it’s heard, giving the committee’s stewards the ability to stifle legislation. 

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.