Rauner lauds legislators for targeting sexual harassment — ‘finally’

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Flanked by supporters, including Former Lt. Gov. Corinnne Wood (right), Gov. Bruce Rauner announces he will sign abortion legislation HB40. File Photo.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Calling sexual harassment “completely unacceptable,” Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday applauded the Illinois General Assembly for finally naming an inspector general to handle complaints — but gave them the back of his hand for taking more than two years to do so.

“I would say it’s about time that the Legislature has their own inspector general,” Rauner told reporters at an event in Woodlawn. “They haven’t had one for awhile. … I’m glad the Legislature is finally starting to take action.”

Julie B. Porter, a former federal prosecutor, was appointed on Saturday as the special legislative inspector of the Illinois General Assembly, as allegations of sexual harassment continue to swirl in Illinois politics. The position has been vacant for nearly two years. Legislators rushed to fill it after days of negative publicity about the failure to investigate harassment and other ethical complaints.

The governor returned from Israel on Saturday — just days after the public naming of a state senator during an Illinois House committee. Porter’s appointment took effect immediately and came in the wake of allegations made by a victim rights advocate against state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago. The accusations led to Silverstein being ousted from his post as Majority Caucus Chair.

Leaders plan to take up sexual harassment legislation during the veto session that begins on Tuesday in Springfield. Leaders will also work to remove a statute of limitation that would have inhibited handling complaints pending before the Legislative Ethics Commission.

State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said she was told last week on a commission conference call that there were no “open” cases. Last Wednesday she said she learned there are “up to 27 separate complaints against members of the Illinois General Assembly” — while outlining that she didn’t know whether that meant legislators or their staffers, and it’s unclear what kind of ethical violations were alleged in those complaints.

“With an inspector general in place, it is incumbent upon the General Assembly to give her the tools to do the job. The first thing needed is an extension of the statute of limitations to ensure the pending complaints can be investigated,” Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said in a statement. “The next step is to make sure there are clear standards in place regarding the professional conduct of members of the General Assembly and a direct and secure avenue for victims to come forward with confidence to report complaints.”

Cullerton also announced he had scheduled a sexual harassment awareness training seminar for senators this week, as legislators head back to Springfield for the veto session.

The governor on Monday patted himself on the back for addressing the problem and said “it is long overdue that the Legislature also has a similar process.”

“We’ve got to take every action we can.” Rauner said. “I am proud of our team. I did an executive order almost two years ago.”

Rauner signed an executive order on Feb. 26, 2016 — which directed the state’s first Code of Personal Conduct. A governor’s office spokesperson said the executive order “mandated a sexual harassment-free workplace for state employees.”

“The order derives from the Governor’s strong belief in an ethical, respectful and accountable workplace and from his personal conviction that sexual harassment is unacceptable in all forms,” spokeswoman Patty Schuh said in a statement. “State agency employees also receive required sexual harassment prevention training.”

Prior to his trip to Israel, Rauner denied there were allegations regarding members of his administration. But as rumors continue to swirl about that possibility, Rauner said it wouldn’t be “appropriate” to comment.

“The executive inspector general operates completely independently in confidence. They have their own rigorous process. I and members of our administration are not involved in it whatsoever and there have been a lot of rumors circulating,” Rauner said on Monday. “I’ve heard some. I’ve heard some from members of the media. I don’t comment on rumors. I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment but we have a rigorous process and I have been a strong advocate as I said from the earliest days of my administration.”

The governor said he has never been questioned in a harassment case, and said he has no idea about other complaints in his administration because “there are very clear lines of process in place” that is “completely separate” from his office and “completely confidential.”

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