Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a reform measure into law Friday to change how ethics complaints are handled within state government amid continued fallout from sexual harassment allegations, including the ouster this week of Tim Mapes, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff.

The reforms don’t go as far as some would like. The governor encouraged lawmakers to further overhaul the process to make the commission tasked with oversight of the General Assembly independent.

House Bill 138 passed the General Assembly unanimously on the last day of session.

“This bill is a victory for the heroic women who have stepped forward to take on the culture of fear, abuse and retaliation that permeates too much of state government,” Rauner said in a statement.

The measure impacts the inspector general operations for the Legislature and for the executive branch. It also adds more reporting requirements on the number of cases investigated, closed or pending.

The measure lays out that discrimination and harassment policies must be implemented for state political party central committees. Within three months, such committees must establish a policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment, retaliation and detail consequences for violations of those policies.

Rauner signed the bill two days after Sherri Garrett, an employee inside Madigan’s office, detailed several instances over the span of 5 years that she said House Clerk and Madigan Chief of Staff Tim Mapes harassed her and others. Garrett said she didn’t file anything with the LIG up until now because she didn’t have any confidence it the process.

“I have more confidence now with the House bill that was passed,” Garrett said Wednesday, “because at least everything doesn't have to go to the commission, you know with sexual harassment. It can go straight to the inspector general.”

State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, said the bill will help combat sexual harassment.

“We’re not going to tolerate it and when it happens there’s going to be a good process in place, a fair process in place where we’re not protecting other members or leaders,” Bush said. “It’s got to be real.”

The bill allows for only sexual harassment complaints to be investigated by the Legislative Inspector General without getting approval by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission. Other ethics complaints investigations would still need to be approved.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said lawmakers need to go further to give true independence to the LIG to investigate all ethics complaints, not only sexual harassment complaints.

“I’m concerned that the public won’t have confidence that we’re doing all that we should do as public officials to make sure that our members are held to the highest standards,” Barickman said.

Rauner also said more needs to be done. He said the LIG should not need the legislature’s approval to investigate allegations.

“The same independent investigation that is needed for claims of sexual harassment is also needed for allegations such as bribery, fraud, prohibited political activity and other crimes and ethics violations,” Rauner said.

Rauner said oversight of the General Assembly should come from independent people not connected to the legislative process. 

“Illinois has one of the nation’s highest rates of public corruption, and Illinoisans have the lowest confidence in their government compared to citizens of every other state," Rauner said. "An independent Legislative Inspector General and independent commission are needed to help restore Illinoisans’ confidence in the legislature.”

The governor said flaws in the process need to be addressed by lawmakers quickly. 

Bush filed an amendment to Senate Bill 38 on the last day of session last month to give complete independence to the LIG, but that measure remains in committee.

The measure Rauner signed Friday, HB138, also provides a process of filling a vacancy for the Legislative Inspector General, which says a search committee should be formed and up to three candidates provided. If the LIG is vacant for more than 6 months, any pending cases would be directed to the Inspector General for the Auditor General.

Last fall it was revealed the LIG position was vacant for more than two years and there were more than two dozen ethics complaints against state lawmakers that had not been investigated. One was anti-violence activist Denise Rotheimer’s complaint against state Sen. Ira Silverstein, which she filed in October 2016.

A special LIG was eventually appointed. Special LIG Julie Porter determined Silverstien didn’t abuse his power to sexually harasses Rotheimer, but found Silverstien’s behavior was “unbecoming of a legislator.”

Rotheimer has also filed a complaint against the Legislative Ethics Commission for not appointing a full blown LIG, saying the special LIG isn’t enough.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.