Senate Republicans have entered the ethics debate with a package of bills they say is focused on cleaning up the General Assembly.
They’ve introduced seven bills that they said enhance the ability to enforce ethics laws already on the books and force greater accountability from legislators.
"To continue to drag our feet on the issue of ethical conduct is an insult to the people of Illinois," said Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove.
Curran said three bills would enhance the ability to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by lawmakers. They include:
* Senate Bill 4012, which would allow the attorney general’s office to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate and prosecute bribery and misconduct by lawmakers.
* Senate Bill 4013, which would provide state’s attorneys with wiretap authority.
* Senate Bill 4014, which would give the Legislative Inspector General authority to investigate lawmakers without first getting permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission comprised by lawmakers. The bill would make the commission all members of the public rather than the General Assembly.
The senators also introduced bills they said are "aimed at ensuring that legislators are serving the public interest." They include a proposed ban on lawmakers working as lobbyists while in office or for a year after leaving office, beefed-up financial disclosure requirements, and a prohibition on lawmakers leaving office and subsequently using campaign funds to support lobbying activities. Also included is a proposal to prohibit former lawmakers serving on a state board or commission from using campaign funds to support candidates.
"These are commonsense reforms that will help ensure that legislators represent your interest instead of theirs," said Sen. Jil Tracy of Quincy.
Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods said many of the ideas aren’t new and have even gotten positive votes in either the House or Senate. However, none has passed both chambers and become law.
A spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said the Republicans presented "some interesting ideas."
"We look forward to them working with us to pass and enact meaningful ethics reform for the people of Illinois," said John Patterson.
Four state lawmakers have faced federal charges in the past year for various alleged illegal activities and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, as been implicated, but not charged, in a federal investigation into the activities of utility giant Commonwealth Edison. A legislative commission was formed last year to recommend new ethics laws in the wake of the investigations and charges. However, it hasn’t met for months as the coronavirus disrupted state operations. Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, a co-chair of the commission, has said recommendations will be released this fall so that lawmakers can consider them during the veto session that starts in November.
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