Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday issued an amendatory veto to an ethics reform bill that passed the General Assembly in the final days of the spring session, saying the bill is a “first step” toward restoring the public’s trust in government.
Pritzker corrected what he called a drafting error in the bill that “inadvertently confuses the clear authority that the [Executive Inspectors General] have under current law.”
Under the bill sent to Pritzker, the powers of the inspector general were muddied by a line that said the governmental watchdog wouldn’t need the advance approval of the Executive Ethics Commission to initiate investigations of wrongful conduct in the executive branch. The office has never needed that approval and removing it will clear up what the office can and cannot do.
The governor said in a statement passing “real, lasting ethics reform was a top priority” going into the 2020 legislative session, and he’s “pleased” with the package that passed.
“We must restore the public’s trust in our government, and this legislation is a necessary first step to achieve that goal,” Pritzker said. “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.”
The legislation must now return to the General Assembly, so members in both chambers can vote to approve or reject the governor’s changes.
The bill includes rules banning legislators, executive branch constitutional officers and elected or appointed county, municipal and township officials from being paid for lobbying; increases transparency by expanding who must register as a lobbyist and enhances “revolving door” provisions in the state’s executive branch; and creates rules in the legislative branch to limit former legislators becoming lobbyists.
State Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, was a lead sponsor of the legislation in her chamber. She said the measure “offers bipartisan solutions to target some of the worst abuses of power in our state’s history.
“Our plan closes many of the loopholes that have allowed bad actors to game the system for decades,” she said in a statement. “Our bipartisan team on the Senate Ethics Committee stands ready to continue this vital work to make our government work for everyone, not just a powerful few.”
Some felt the bill didn’t go far enough.
Before the legislation passed the House in late May, state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said she was “really disappointed” with it.
“If we are going to show the public that they can have a renewed sense of trust in state government, we’ve got to do something a whole heck of a lot better than this watered-down, diluted — and I think, in some instances, really deceptive — ethics reform,” she said at the time.
Other Republican lawmakers also spoke against the bill, but it passed with only five ‘no’ votes in the House and no members voting against it in the Senate.
Outgoing legislative Inspector General Carol Pope said legislators actually restricted her powers in the bill in a letter announcing her resignation in July.
Calling her role “essentially a paper tiger” she wrote her powers were limited by the provision requiring someone to file a complaint before she can start an investigation. If public allegations are made but no complaint is filed, the legislative inspector general would not be able to initiate an investigation.
Pope, who was responsible for rooting out wrongdoing in the legislative branch, also wrote that she testified in front of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform in spring, offering ideas that she wanted to see implemented, but none of her suggestions were adopted.
“When I took this job as the Legislative Inspector General, I thought I might be able to make a difference working from the inside,” Pope wrote in her two-page resignation letter.
“I thought I could be useful in improving the public’s view of the legislature and help bring about true ethics reform. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do so. This last legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority.”