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Illinois House Republicans want stronger ethics plan despite previous support for Democratic proposal

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - State representatives return to Springfield Thursday to address a massive clean energy plan. But, they could also give an ethics package another shot for approval.

House Republicans say they don't want that plan to become law. However, this ethics legislation gained bipartisan support during the spring session because lawmakers in both chambers wanted to see reform even though it didn't address every area of concern.

Gov. JB Pritzker made a narrow veto to the bill last month to address a technical issue. However, many Republicans hoped he would veto the entire proposal so lawmakers could get back to the drawing board. The Senate quickly agreed to Pritzker's request last week, but House Republicans decided to pull their support from the plan when it came to a vote in their chamber. They feel Senate Bill 539 is a "watered-down" ethics plan, and no one should support it to get minor reforms signed into law.

"We say that we've fixed the problem and it really does nothing to change anything," said Rep. Mike Marron (R-Fithian). "That would cause such a lack of faith in confidence in us that it would just be unforgivable."

A step in the right direction for reform

Still, most Democrats feel there are significant improvements. This bill bans elected officials in all levels of government from lobbying. For example, state lawmakers can't lobby other legislators or officers from the Executive branch like the Governor or Secretary of State. It also says lawmakers can't become lobbyists until six months after leaving office to prevent the revolving door. The bill also clarifies disclosures required in statements of economic interest.

The legislation also includes consultants under the definition of lobbyist in Illinois under this proposal. That provision addresses the corruption of former Speaker Mike Madigan's confidant Mike McClain who frequently served as a consultant. However, the bill falls short of giving the Legislative Inspector General full power to investigate corrupt lawmakers.

"I think this should really be a call to lawmakers to wake up and pass something that isn't window-dressing but will actually get to the foundational problems that allow this culture of corruption in Springfield," said Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville).

Even Pritzker agrees that more reform is needed to restore the public's trust in government. Yet, many Democrats feel their proposal is a step in the right direction.

"I remain committed to making further advancements so the well-connected and well-protected cannot work the system to the detriment of working families across Illinois," Pritzker stated.

Democrats hope to get this plan across the finish line Thursday, but the bill still needs 71 votes to pass out of the House.

House Republicans want to resurrect their ethics bill

Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) served on the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying throughout 2020. That group spent months listening to testimony about necessary changes. Still, they missed the deadline to give a final report to lawmakers. Windhorst is one of several lawmakers upset that the group never submitted the information. He feels ethics fell in importance.

That's why Windhorst filed an ethics omnibus bill last spring, including many proposals previously introduced by Republicans. His proposal would create a one-year revolving door ban for lawmakers hoping to become lobbyists. The plan also gives more power to the Legislative Inspector General. But, most importantly, the LIG would have subpoena power without prior approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission.

"The Democrats' ethics package so impaired the LIG's ability to do her job that our current Legislative Inspector General submitted her resignation after the legislation passed," said Windhorst. "She pointed out specific deficiencies in the bill in her letter of resignation.

While 13 Republicans signed on as co-sponsors of the plan, Windhorst's bill is locked in the Rules Committee.

"If the Democrats are serious about something, they will do it. What they've shown is that they're not serious about passing serious ethics reform," said Bourne. "Saying this is our only option is a false choice."

The Capitol Bureau contacted Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) to discuss her plan for a vote Thursday. The lead sponsor of SB 539 did not respond.

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Mike Miletich

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