Leaders from both sides of the aisle have called for more stringent ethics rules amid federal corruption probes involving state lawmakers, but it remained unclear what, if any, reform proposals would be tackled before legislators leave for the week.
Three state lawmakers have come under federal scrutiny so far this year. State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was charged with embezzling from a labor union. He’s pleaded not guilty and remains in office. Federal agents raided the home and officers of State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, searching for evidence of a kickback scheme. He has not been charged and remains in office. State Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was charged with bribing a state Senator. He pleaded not guilty and resigned from office.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said Tuesday that he is ready to bring forward ethics reforms, but didn’t elaborate on what lawmakers can get done before the end of the week.
Thursday is the last day of the fall session. After that, lawmakers won’t be back until January.
Given the federal scrutiny, state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said lawmakers need to act this week.
“The legislature should not be sent home until we’ve made meaningful strides to improve ethics in the state of Illinois and restore confidence in our state government,” Spain said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said smaller reforms could be tackled this week while bigger reforms could wait.
“But we need comprehensive reform,” Pritzker said. “We have got to fight the corruption and deception that’s been going on among the legislators.”
Republicans have proposed several measures, including House Bill 3947, which would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work for local government units. Under existing law, state lawmakers are prohibited from lobbying the state, but can lobby local units of government, such as counties or municipalities. Arroyo was a lawmaker and a registered lobbyist in Chicago.
House Bill 3954 would enhance statements of economic interest with more details to disclose potential conflicts of interest. Republicans said the measure would also provide greater transparency for members of the General Assembly.
House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 36 would require special elections to fill General Assembly vacancies, an effort Republicans said will prevent political powerbrokers from picking their preferred candidates for the vacancies. Arroyo said since he’s the ward committeeman in his legislative district, he has a weighted vote to select his replacement. Madigan has said if Arroyo is involved in the selection process, the House will challenge the qualifications of the replacement.
House Resolution 588 would allow a Chief Sponsor or Co-Sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it for an up or down vote in a substantive committee.
And House Bill 3955 would create mandatory and publicly available documentation of General Assembly communications with any state agency regarding contracts.
State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said constituents consistently ask what is being done to address corruption at the state level.
“It currently stands that if you use your office for personal gain it’s a petty offense,” Wehrli said. “There’s been legislation filed to address that literally for years. It is time to take action. It should not take federal raids and federal complaints filed to change the culture in Springfield.”
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, said she expects to see a task force address the issues that the federal investigations have raised.
“I think the question of ethics reforms is going to take a little bit more than a day or two,” Kifowit said. “I am in support of the ethics task force that has been presented.”
None of the bills House Republicans have filed have advanced to a committee for consideration. Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.