Rauner both signs and critiques sexual harassment legislation

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner | Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday signed into law two measures targeting sexual harassment in Illinois politics, while also saying there’s far more work to do and dubbing one “hurried” and “very flawed.”

Rauner signed both a measure that will require all lawmakers, lobbyists and state employees to undergo sexual harassment training every year beginning next year, as well as a bill that extends the statute of limitations on 27 cases pending before the Legislative Ethics Commission. The signings come about a week after legislators quickly passed both measures amid pressure over the lack of action when it comes to potential ethical complaints involving lawmakers.

The state employees’ ethics code will now prohibit sexual harassment and include a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.

Rauner also publicly signed a bill that enables a tax credit of up to $750 for property owners in 18 Illinois counties where flood damaged homes in July. Asked about the sexual harassment legislation signing — which was announced via a press release just before the tax credit signing — the governor called the statute of limitation bill “very flawed.”

“I would have liked to see something far better and more thoughtful and different. And I thought about AVing [issuing an amendatory veto on] the bill, but then it wouldn’t be dealt with for at least two more months and then the investigations can’t start. So I said, ‘You know what, I have to accept a flawed bill. Sign it. Get the investigations going.’ But I believe there’s a lot more more work to be done. The legislative inspector general is very restricted in terms of what he or she can do,” Rauner said.

The governor also signaled support for an independent legislative inspector general.

“They have to get approval for what they investigate. There’s a lot of control with the legislature about what they can investigate. This is wrong. There should be complete independence, complete confidentiality, complete ability to unilaterally do what he or she decides needs to be investigated. I also think there needs to be more transparency laid out for the actions that she [Julie Porter] ultimately takes,” Rauner said.

Both the House and Senate have named members to a task force that will deal with sexual harassment. But some lawmakers are questioning why the Legislative Ethics Commission, made up of lawmakers, should be overseeing the inspector general, considering some of the complaints may be about other legislators.

An online campaign and open letter late last month helped to open the floodgates and embolden women in Illinois politics to come out about their experiences. And the public naming of state Sen Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, during a House committee by victims rights advocate Denise Rotheimer also helped to speed along the naming of Porter as interim legislative inspector general — filling a position that had been vacant since 2015.

“The General Assembly should now look to meaningful reforms of its ethical oversight structure to ensure that the new Legislative Inspector General has robust and independent investigatory and enforcement power,” Rauner said in a statement issued by his office. “For example, after the Office of the Legislative Inspector General finds reasonable cause of a violation, there is a limitation of 18 months in which to file a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission. That time limitation will certainly need to be modified.”

Rotheimer told the Sun-Times she had an initial phone interview with Porter on Monday.

Lawmakers underwent sexual harassment training in Springfield last week. And legislative staffers planned to undergo training this week.

After both the bills passed, Rauner in a statement applauded lawmakers and called it a “step in the right direction.”

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