SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House Republicans continued to push for quick movement on a package of legislative ethics reforms Tuesday despite no indication from House Democratic leadership that the initiatives will receive committee votes this week.
Several House GOP members called the Statehouse news conference to push for what they called “urgently needed” reforms in light of the recent arrest of a state representative and ongoing investigations of other lawmakers and state government insiders. The lawmakers said the bills were needed immediately because several of them directly pertain to the conduct at the center of the ongoing ethical investigations.
Among other provisions is a bill preventing lawmakers or their immediate live-in families from lobbying local governments, one increasing economic interest disclosure requirements, and another adding documentation requirements for communication between lawmakers and state agencies.
“These bills don’t get heard because today we have too much power vested in just a few,” said state Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican.
The Republican lawmakers called for action on the measures by the end of fall veto session Thursday. Once the veto session adjourns, the General Assembly will not reconvene until January.
Speaking at a different news conference Tuesday at the Capitol, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker indicated he was “concerned about” state lawmakers being legally allowed to lobby local governments.
“And I’ve made it very clear that we need to have comprehensive ethics legislation. We have three days here, so the likelihood is that we can get some beginnings of that. But the fact is, it’s going to take a little longer than we have in three days where we need comprehensive reform,” Pritzker said. “We have got to fight the corruption and deception that’s been going on among the legislators.”
Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat who resigned his House seat after he was arrested three weeks ago on bribery charges, was a registered lobbyist in Chicago at the time. His arrest was for alleged activity that would have directly benefitted one of his Chicago clients.
“We acknowledge that there’s a longer, more ongoing conversation about the culture that’s tolerated some of these ethical lapses in Springfield,” said Deputy Minority Leader Tom Demmer, R-Dixon. “But it’s very important that we, as elected officials, acknowledge that every day the people of Illinois are waking up and seeing in the newspaper, hearing on the radio or TV, that there’s additional issues that are ethical challenges and problems that are enacted by their representatives in Springfield. We need to do something to take advantage of this opportunity to reform our laws, so … the people of Illinois have better confidence in their elected officials.”
While state Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, is sponsoring a resolution that would create a task force to study potential ethical reforms, she said some of the reforms introduced last week require immediate action.
“I think some of the bills that are discussed today in detail are actually very common sense. And surprisingly, not the law today,” she said.
The lawmakers also called for a bill that would require a vacated General Assembly seat to be filled by a special election, rather than by appointment.
Another bill would allow a chief co-sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it for vote in a substantive committee. The lawmakers said this would take some power out of the hands of leadership.
A spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan did not directly respond to questions as to whether the speaker would allow for the movement of any of the ethics reforms in committee this veto session.
He referred to unspecified comments Madigan made “two weeks ago.”
On Oct. 28, Madigan said he plans to call in “stakeholders and experts” to re-examine the state’s ethics and lobbying laws, but he said he didn’t know why it isn’t already illegal in Illinois for the owner of a lobbying firm to serve as a lawmaker.
“I don’t know the answer to that question. That’s the type of thing that should be addressed by this group that we’re going to convene,” Madigan, who has been House speaker for all but two years since 1983, told reporters at the Capitol.