Seeking to improve independence and transparency in the way legislative ethics complaints are handled in Illinois, State Senators Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) and Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) have sponsored bipartisan legislation approved unanimously by the Illinois Senate today making significant reforms to the Legislative Ethics Commission.
The lawmakers said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) were vital in advancing the compromise, which incorporates the suggestions and input of members of the Legislative Ethics Commission. House Bill 138 also enjoys the full support of the Illinois Senate Women's Caucus.
“This is about changing the process of how ethics complaints are handled so that we can guarantee that any person who comes forward and files a claim with the legislative inspector general knows that their complaint is being reviewed in an independent, transparent and timely manner,” said Bush. “Time’s up in Springfield. No one should have to experience sexual harassment and discrimination, but if it occurs under the dome, their claims needed to be taken seriously and perpetrators need to be held accountable.”
"To prevent politics from playing into the selection of the Inspector General, an independent, unbiased committee should take on that responsibility; we don't want to leave an opening for possible corruption," said Tracy. "Secondly, their office needs a more reliable structure so that even if the Legislative Inspector General steps down, we can quickly fill the position, so that we never again see a two-year vacancy of the seat. The role of IG is too important to the system and ensures state employees are heard."
Notably, the changes advanced in House Bill 138 call for an independent search committee to determine candidates for the Legislative Inspector General role, with members of the committee to be composed of retired judges or former prosecutors. Additionally, the measure offers the option of hiring a full-time Legislative Inspector General, which until now has been a part-time position. A full-time LIG will increase accessibility and guarantee an LIG is available to quickly vet and act on all complaints filed with the office.
“With this overhaul of the legislative ethics process, women and men who file claims with the Legislative Inspector General can feel confident that their cases will be taken seriously and won't be swept under the rug,” said Senator Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), Co-Chair of the Senate Women’s Caucus. “This is one of many important measures to provide justice to victims of harassment and discrimination and restore faith in the system. I’m looking forward to continuing working with my colleagues in the Senate Women's Caucus to pass meaningful legislation to change the culture of sexual harassment and discrimination both in Springfield and across Illinois.”
"No one should ever fear bringing forth evidence of harassment out of concern of personal or professional retaliation, but unfortunately, the current system within the legislative body does not make it easy for people to come forward," said State Senator Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles), who is a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission. "Thanks to the support and leadership of Leader Brady and President Cullerton, we were able to pass bipartisan legislation that truly addresses some of the major problems with our ethics process. Today, we took stand against the political corruption that has plagued the Capitol building for far too long, and we are finally giving people peace of mind that we are serious about changing the culture."
The legislation will also allow the Legislative Inspector General to begin an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment without first receiving approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission. However, at each Legislative Ethics Commission meeting, the LIG will inform the Commission of each investigation opened that involves allegations of sexual harassment.
“Illinoisans demanded we address gun violence, find stability in a state budget, and come together to do something meaningful about workplace harassment,” said Senator Cristina Castro (D-Elgin). “We’ve all been made aware of the problems. We all know changes are needed. This is a solid step in the right direction that brings needed changes and protections to this professional workplace.”
Additionally, the proposal requires enhanced reporting regarding the types of matters brought to both the Executive and Legislative Inspector Generals, as well as enhanced reporting by the Legislative Ethics Commission regarding the number of cases where the Legislative Ethics Commission does not publish reports and situations when the Legislative Ethics Commission refuses to allow an Inspector General to proceed with a complaint.
House Bill 138 also identifies appropriate processes for Legislative Ethics Commission members to recuse themselves; authorizes the sharing of information about complaints and the investigation process with complainants; improves transparency with regard to allegations and investigations by violation category; and allows for the Legislative Ethics Commission to develop training on topics pertaining to sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace civility, which may be approved to meet the sexual harassment training requirement.
Moreover, the bill addresses concerns with regard to the Executive Ethics Commission, authorizing the Executive Inspector General to develop and post online information about the complaint and investigation process, as well as identifying legal limitations on their ability to share information with a complainant or subject of an investigation. Tackling issues of harassment inside the Statehouse, the legislation will also allow the Secretary of State Inspector General to enforce the prohibition on sexual harassment that is applicable to lobbyists, and provides for suspension or revocation of lobbyist registration for a sexual harassment violation.
Having been approved unanimously by the Illinois Senate, House Bill 138 moves to the Illinois House of Representatives for concurrence.