House GOP requests amendatory veto of ethics bill, says inspector general would be weaker
Illinois House Republicans, most of whom voted in favor of the ethics reform bill sitting on Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk, now want Pritzer to use his amendatory veto power to remove sections of the legislation they say weaken the legislative inspector general’s powers.
Thirty-four of the 45 Republican members of the Democratic-controlled House sent a letter Friday to the Democratic governor to make the request about Senate Bill 539. The bill passed the House on a 113-5 vote on May 31 and the Senate 59-0 on June 1.
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, an assistant House GOP leader and member of the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Commission, initiated the letter and said flaws in the bill highlighted by Carol Pope, legislative inspector general, “must be corrected.”
Pope on Wednesday announced her planned resignation effective Dec. 15, in part because of provisions in the bill that she said indicates “true ethics reform is not a priority” for the General Assembly. Pope’s term normally would be up in June 2023.
The GOP letter asks Pritzker to remove “the provisions that disempower the LIG, and begin negotiations on comprehensive ethics reform for Illinois.”
The House and Senate would have to vote to accept or reject an amendatory veto. Democrats hold the supermajorities in both chambers that would be required to take either action.
Pritzker, who has made positive comments about the bill since its passage, hasn’t said whether he will sign it into law. Pritzker didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, didn’t join in the GOP’s call for a tweaking of the bill through an amendatory veto. He wants to see the bill signed into law, and he supports "continuing conversations" about how to further strengthen ethics protections, according to spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll.
“The speaker believes this ethics package is a sound, bipartisan first step to reforming Springfield,” Driscoll said.
She said Reps. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, and Maurice West, D-Rockford, members of the ethics commission, “have committed to continuing conversations about how to strengthen and improve the legislation. But this ethics reform bill is needed and benefits the people of Illinois.”
Bourne voted for the bill, saying in the House debate on May 31 that it contained “some tiny pieces of small steps in the right direction.”
She also said she was “really disappointed with this piece of legislation” and that the bill was “not in line” with what Pope and previous LIGs Tom Homer and Julie Porter asked for when it comes to changes in state law regarding the legislative inspector general’s office.
Republicans and Democrats pushing for ethics reform said after the wide-ranging bill’s passage that it didn’t contain everything they wanted and that they would continue to work on the issue.
But bill sponsor Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, said at the time, “This legislation takes the first steps in addressing some of the most egregious scandals in our state’s history.”
And Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said the bill represents “an important step forward.”
But Bourne said in the floor debate, and Pope said in her resignation letter, that the legislation would prohibit the legislative inspector general's office from beginning an investigation into a lawmaker’s conduct unless someone first filed a complaint with the office.
Information reported in the media wouldn’t amount to a complaint, Pope said.
The legislation also would restrict the LIG’s jurisdiction to matters “arising out of government service or employment,” she said. As a result, other conduct “unbecoming a legislator,” such as posting revenge porn on social media or failure to pay income taxes on non-legislative income, would be out of bounds to investigate.
She said one positive part of the legislation would allow the LIG to initiate an investigation without prior approval of the ethics commission. Such approval is currently required.
But the legislation didn’t contain other provisions Pope said LIGs need to be effective, such as independent power to issue subpoenas — something other inspector generals in Illinois can do — or the ability to publish reports that implicate or vindicate lawmakers without prior approval from the ethics commission.
In a news release Friday, Bourne said the bill “barely scratches the surface of what truly needs to be accomplished to clean up our state government and produce real ethics reform.
“The biggest fault of this bill is that it limits the legislative inspector general, who is supposed to be an independent watchdog over the legislature. At a time when we have seen countless elected officials indicted and ongoing federal investigations, we need stronger anti-corruption reforms to restore the public’s trust,” she said.
Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, said he has pushed for legislation to carry out Pope’s requests for broader powers and more independence. He voted for SB 539 and signed the GOP letter.
“I will vote for any ethics bill that moves us forward,” he said. “This one moves us forward an inch. We need to move a mile.”
Contact Dean Olsen: email@example.com; (217) 836-1068; twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.