Democrats put corruption reform on ice: ‘More time will be necessary to complete our work’

The commission was required to release a report by Tuesday with recommendations on how to end entrenched corruption in Illinois, but as the COVID-19 crisis has temporarily shut down sessions of the General Assembly, it has also stymied the work of the commission.

SHARE Democrats put corruption reform on ice: ‘More time will be necessary to complete our work’
Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris, left, in June; state Sen. Elgie R. Sims Jr., right, in 2012.

Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris, left, in June; state Sen. Elgie R. Sims Jr., right, in 2012.

John O’Connor/AP file; Sun-Times Media.

SPRINGFIELD — Corruption busting is the latest casualty of the coronavirus in Illinois.

Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, chairs of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, said Tuesday that the pandemic has forced them to miss a deadline in their efforts.

The commission was required to release a report by Tuesday with recommendations on how to end entrenched corruption in Illinois, but as the COVID-19 crisis has temporarily shut down sessions of the General Assembly, it has also stymied the work of the commission.

“We have completed our meetings, heard from stakeholders and are working through the proposals that have been put before us,” the two Chicago Democrats said in a joint statement. “However, due to the ongoing crisis, more time will be necessary to complete our work.”

The commission, established by the Legislature in November, is tasked with proposing ways to reform state government in the wake of scandals that have rocked state, county and municipal government. Harris and Sims said they still hope to pass ethics reform legislation in the spring legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn May 31.But since lawmakers have not met since March 5 – and Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday extended the state’s stay-at-home order until April 30 — that could become increasingly difficult.

Before the pandemic altered the landscape, Pritzker declared that ending corruption was a priority. In his State of the State speech in January, the governor said the state must “root out the purveyors of greed and corruption — in both parties — whose presence infects the bloodstream of government.”

A wide-ranging federal investigation targeting state lawmakers and other politicians prompted the latest push.

In September, federal officials raided the offices of state Sen. Martin Sandoval. The Southwest Side Democrat pleaded guilty to corruption charges in January.

In October, state Rep. Luis Arroyo was charged with bribery. The former Northwest Side Democratic legislator’s case is still ongoing. Earlier last year, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was indicted in August for allegedly embezzling money from the Teamsters.

While Republican lawmakers wanted to tackle corruption in the fall veto session last November, Democrats opted to form the commission to study the issue first and to release a report on what reforms are needed.

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