Dear friend,

 

Yesterday, I joined 15 other members of the Illinois General Assembly to call for ethics reform measures in light of the numerous, ongoing federal investigations involving bribery, influence peddling and insider trading impacting state government officials and lobbyists.

 

Illinois is facing monumental challenges – from the coronavirus and its economic impact, to the history of racial inequalities in our society, to the impact the state’s huge revenue loss will have on vulnerable residents. Our government will not be able to effectively meet all of these challenges without the confidence and trust of the people we represent. Unfortunately, trust in Springfield has been shaken given the charges and resignations involving a number of our colleagues.

 

To restore the public’s faith in state government, we are announcing nine specific ethics reform measures that we believe could receive bipartisan support in the upcoming veto session. These proposals would dramatically increase transparency and take meaningful strides toward restoring public trust in state government at a time when government action has never been more crucial to overcome the hardships and dangers we’re facing as a state and as a society. These nine measures seek to address three broad areas.

 

Lobbying Reform

 

  1. Prohibit legislator-lobbyists. We would prohibit any sitting legislator from simultaneously lobbying other units of government, including city, county or federal entities. This ban should apply to lobbying elected officials; performing legal or regulatory work should still be allowed.
  2. Stop the legislator-lobbyist revolving door. We would establish at least a one-year prohibition on legislators and senior management within each caucus (those who file statements of economic interest) leaving their offices and immediately going to work as lobbyists.
  3. Better define who is a lobbyist. We urge the Joint Commission to consider changing the current definition of what constitutes a lobbyist to cover additional individuals or consulting firms. Consultants and lawyers should not be able to use loopholes to perform lobbying and skirt registration as a lobbyist.

 

Legislative Reform

 

  1. Ensure better disclosure of outside income. We would expand current requirements for legislators to disclose the sources and amounts of their outside income and increase penalties for those who refuse to comply in full. This must be done in a way that protects confidentiality rules of professional conduct, and avoids disproportionately impacting legislators and candidates who are not independently wealthy.
  2. Initiate an official censure. We would establish a process to officially censure a legislator who has violated ethics laws, similar to that which is practiced in the United States Congress.
  3. Strengthen the Legislative Inspector General. We encourage changes to the Legislative Inspector General’s Office to increase its independence, such as allowing the LIG to self-initiate investigations and making it an independent agency for the purposes of budgets and hiring.
  4. End exemption from Human Rights Act. We would remove the current exemption of legislators’ direct employees from the state’s Human Rights Act, so those employees receive the same protections afforded to other employees.

Leadership Reform

  1. Establish term limits for legislative leaders. We would establish term limits for the period that legislators can serve in leadership positions, including the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House and the President and Minority Leader of the Senate.
  2. Establish a process for removal of legislative leaders and committee chairs. We urge creation of a policy calling for the temporary removal of a legislative leader or committee chair during any criminal investigation relevant to job duties involving that member or an actual charge/indictment. The individual can be reinstated upon completion of said investigation or upon their acquittal.

 

These nine steps without a doubt will bring a greater level of transparency to the business that is done in Springfield, and it is important that legislators work together to get them passed. Enacting meaningful ethics reform has been elusive and, given the magnitude of the ongoing investigations, it is imperative that we act in the upcoming veto session.

 

Mechanisms exist to begin making these changes. The Illinois House and Senate last year voted to empanel a Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, to whom we are submitting these nine proposals for ethics reform. The Commission was charged with holding hearings and issuing a report and recommendations by March 31, 2020. Although hearings began early this year, the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the commission’s work and final report. We understand the Commission is continuing its work and appreciate their consideration of these proposals.

 

For our full statement on our proposals, you can view an explainer at my website, [here]. I will keep you up to date on any developments as they occur. Springfield must work for the citizens of Illinois. It is past time for a change.

 

Sincerely,


Heather A. Steans
State Senator, 7th Illinois Senate District

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