Rooting out corruption, ethics reform

Governor J.B. Pritzker painted a rosy picture in his first “State of the State” address January 29, but Senate Republican lawmakers say a greater emphasis should have been placed on rooting out corruption, starting with revamping the state’s process for drawing legislative maps. 

Also during the week, additional problems with the state’s Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) system came to light. These and earlier issues with the AVR system are raising questions about the integrity of the AVR program.

And as corruption indictments continue to unfold in the headlines, ethics reforms is one of the issues that must be a top legislative priority this year.

“State of the State” fails to address legislative redistricting

Senate Republicans reacted to Governor Pritzker’s first official “State of the State” address, delivered to a joint session of Illinois lawmakers January 29 in the House of Representatives chambers.

Governor Pritzker took a look back at his first year in office and laid out his agenda for the next year. He says he wants to work in a bipartisan manner – so this is his chance. We need to work together and concentrate on paying off our debt. We need to work together to cut spending and stop putting off pension payments. And one of our greatest and most urgent priorities is the need to lighten the tremendous burden on taxpayers and implement a plan for real long-term property tax relief.

The Governor gave his assessment of how Illinois is doing as his Administration enters its second year.  He is expected to present his Budget Address for Fiscal Year 2021 on February 19.

The Senate Republican Caucus says despite the Governor’s glowing assessment, much more needs to be done, including placing a stronger emphasis on rooting out corruption as a priority – beginning with fundamentally changing how the state draws legislative maps. 

Currently, legislative maps are drawn behind closed doors by the party in power. Republican lawmakers have argued it is past time to give the people of Illinois the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment that would create a new, non-partisan redistricting process.

The Caucus also stands ready to work with lawmakers across the aisle and in the House to advance meaningful property tax reform and promote the kind of economic climate that encourages job creation and growth.  

Republican lawmakers push for suspension of automatic voter registration

New problems with Illinois’ Automatic Voter Registration system are being reported just days after Governor Pritzker said there are no plans to suspend the AVR program, even after it mistakenly registered more than 500 people.

Newly public glitches allowed approximately 4,700 16-year-olds to begin the voter registration process. Additionally, at least 297 people who opted out of automatic voter registration had their information sent to the Illinois’ election authority anyway. On January 29, a Republican member of the State Board of Elections attempted to launch an independent investigation of the system, but the motion failed to receive the bipartisan support necessary to move forward. 

In a letter sent January 30 to Secretary of State Jesse White, the members of the Senate Republican Caucus called for the program’s suspension until a thorough investigation can take place to ensure its integrity. 

“Our vote is our most cherished right in a democracy, and even just one illegal vote can tarnish the credibility of the entire system,” the January 30 letter read.

These latest issues with the AVR system come after it was revealed just last week that the Secretary of State’s Office had forwarded 547 voter registrations to the State Board of Elections despite the fact that applicants had said they were not U.S. citizens.  On January 21, all Republican Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of State’s office seeking further information about which locations erroneously registered voters, what investigatory steps would be taken and what would be done to prevent situations like this in the future. 

Republican lawmakers make ethics reform a priority for spring session

As investigations into government corruption cases continue to play out in the headlines, passing commonsense legislation, including several measures unveiled last fall by Republican lawmakers, must be a top priority of lawmakers this spring.

One measure, Senate Bill 2300, seeks to ensure members of the Illinois State Board of Elections aren’t funding political action committees. Under current state law, a person can serve as a member of the State Board of Elections while at the same time running a political action committee that benefits candidates.

Senate Bill 2300 would prohibit a member of the State Board of Elections from also contributing to or being an officer of a state or federal political committee. The bill also lays out the process by which members of the State Board of Elections must resign from political committees:

  • A member of the State Board of Elections serving as an officer of a political committee must resign from that committee within 30 days of his/her appointment confirmation in the Senate.
  • Any current State Board of Elections member has 30 days from the effective date to resign as an officer from any political committee.

Senate Bill 2300 was introduced along with several other ethics reform measures Republican lawmakers contend are needed to clean up Springfield.

Senate Bill 2297 aims to restore public trust in an honest and ethical state government by ensuring independent investigations of ethics violations. This legislation gives the Legislative Inspector General (LIG) the appropriate tools, which the current LIG has suggested, to conduct independent investigations of legislators.

Currently, except in cases alleging sexual harassment, the LIG must get advance approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) before opening an investigation, or issuing subpoenas. Additionally, if, during the investigation, the LIG discovers wrongdoing that is beyond the scope of, or unrelated to the initial complaint, they have to go back to the LEC to get approval to investigate further.

Under Senate Bill 2297, the LIG would be able to investigate complaints against legislators and issue subpoenas without approval from the LEC. By taking legislators out of the process, the bill ensures independence in the investigation of these claims.

Another measure that should be allowed to move forward is Senate Bill 1827, which would revamp the statement of economic interest that elected officials are required to fill out. Despite receiving unanimous, bipartisan approval in the Senate, this measure has failed to advance in the House of Representatives.

Jil Tracy

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