Democratic lawmakers push ‘systemic’ ethics reform, saying issue is ‘way bigger than Speaker Madigan’

The list of proposed changes includes barring legislators from lobbying each other, creating a better definition of who is a lobbyist, establishing an official censure process in the Illinois House and Senate, imposing leadership term limits, and creating a process for the temporary removal of leaders or committee chairs who are charged or indicted.

SHARE Democratic lawmakers push ‘systemic’ ethics reform, saying issue is ‘way bigger than Speaker Madigan’
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to debate during a House session at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to debate during a House session at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool

A group of state legislators — some of whom have called for beleaguered House Speaker Mike Madigan to resign — on Thursday urged their Democratic colleagues to pass ethics reforms that would include limiting how long lawmakers could serve in leadership positions.

Coming in the wake of federal charges against ComEd that implicated Madigan, the package of proposals also includes lobbying reforms and creating a mechanism to temporarily remove legislative leaders or chairs of committees during criminal investigations.

“It’s just really apparent that it’s time that we stood up, stood together and supported each other and said publicly as representatives and senators that we believe that these are the things that could be accomplished,” state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, said in a Thursday Zoom news conference about the proposed measures.

“Certainly … recent allegations have really brought us together again to say we have to come forward, we have to come forward publiclyand we are not going to stop until we get real systemic change that the people of the state of Illinois, absolutely deserve, and that we have to have, if we are going to move forward,” said Bush, one of the first Democrats to call on Madigan to step down.

State Sen. Melinda Bush.

State Sen. Melinda Bush.

Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times file

The list of proposed changes includes barring legislators from lobbying each other, creating a better definition of who is a lobbyist, establishing an official censure process in the Illinois House and Senate, imposing leadership term limits, and creating a process for the temporary removal of leaders or committee chairs who are charged or indicted.

The proposed reforms would also require legislators to disclose their outside income in greater detail, strengthen the office of the legislative inspector general and end the exemption of the General Assembly from the state’s Human Rights Act.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the group believes they could get “broad bipartisan support” for the reform efforts.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, listens as Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference last week in Springfield.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, listens as Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference last week in Springfield.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

The group has shared its proposal with the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, which was slated to release a report in March. The pandemic has delayed that report, said state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who participated in Thursday’s news conference and has also called on Madigan to resign.

In a joint statement from the co-chairs of the joint commission, state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, as well as commission members Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, and state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Oak Lawn, said many of the ideas proposed by the group have already been discussed and “they will be included in the list of items we’ve heard throughout the year and submitted as part of the commission’s report.”

Two Republican state representatives who serve on that bipartisan commission — Grant Wehrli of Naperville and Patrick Windhorst of downstate Metropolis – issued their own statement, saying that “multiple ideas” proposed by the legislators Thursday have already been “introduced and sponsored by House Republican Caucus members.”

The proposed measures were released nearly a month after a federal court filing implicated Madigan in an alleged bribery scheme in which ComEd is accused of sending $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility.

Madigan has not been charged with any crime, has denied any wrongdoing and said he has no plans to resign.

But a growing list of legislators – including some House Democrats – have called on the powerful Southwest Side Democrat to step immediately as speaker and chairman of the state Democratic Party.

When a reporter asked for all the legislators on the Zoom call to state their position on Madigan and whether he has stymied the passage of ethics reforms previously, state Rep. Mary Edly-Allen, D-Libertyville, said the question “really takes away the focus” from the ethics reform proposal.

State Rep. Mary Edly-Allen, D-Libertyville.

State Rep. Mary Edly-Allen, D-Libertyville.

From Facebook.

“This is way bigger than Speaker Madigan,” Edly-Allen said. “I personally have had my own conversations, and I would say that, if I were in his position, I would resign. But we can only control our own actions and our own behaviors. ... When you say, ‘what about Speaker Madigan?’ It just takes the air out of this balloon that we’re trying to blow up, and if he were gone, we still have systemic changes that need to happen in the environment in Springfield.”

A spokesman for Bush did not immediately respond to questions about whether or not the group has enough support from their colleagues to get the measure to pass the Legislature.

In a statement, Gov. J.B. Pritzker commended the lawmakers “for taking the initiative to propose a strong set of ethics reforms, including many of [the] measures that I have prioritized since January.”

“We need to restore faith in government, which is why I have worked hard to achieve important ethics reforms like stringent lobbyist transparency to end the practice of hiding influence from the public,” Pritzker said.

“I look forward to the report of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, as well as working with members of the General Assembly to ensure public servants live up to their obligation to represent the interests of the people of Illinois, and not their own interests. I believe we should accomplish these important objectives during this fall’s veto session.”

The Latest
Plus, a look at the Bills, Rams, the NFC North and the rest of the league.
A dormant but architecturally-significant modernist South Side office building is getting a major fix-up.
Contributions to Democratic candidates and abortion-rights groups have spiked sharply. Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt says, “How (abortion) plays out in November is to be determined, but for now, it is injecting some much-needed enthusiasm into parts of the Democratic coalition.”
The man, 30, was in the 9000 block of South Escanaba Avenue about 12:20 a.m. when he was shot in the head.