(The Center Square) – Agreeing with the governor’s changes to an ethics bill could come up with the Illinois House returning to the Springfield on Thursday.
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, called the House back to take up changes to the state’s energy policies. The House could also take up an ethics bill the governor sent back.
Senate Bill 539 is the product of opened- and closed-door negotiations since 2019 looking to bring about more accountability to the statehouse. The move followed a tumultuous period just before the pandemic of FBI raids, arrests, and federal charges against lawmakers and lobbyists. But, what passed in May was sent back by the governor with a change.
The Illinois Senate unanimously agreed with the change when lawmakers were in Springfield for a special session on revising legislative maps last week. The House attempted to agree with the change last week.
State Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, said it’s important to get some ethics reforms on the books, despite some saying the measures have been watered down.
“This is something that we are hearing constantly, that we are not doing anything on ethics reform,” Willis said last week on the House floor. “This is your chance to say ‘yes we are.’”
While the measure passed the House with 113 votes in May, the motion last week failed to get enough votes as there weren’t enough Democrats in the chamber at the late hour the bill was called.
On Wednesday, anticipating Democrats will try to call the bill again, state Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian, said Republicans will oppose the motion. He said passing weak reforms gives cover to kicking the can down the road on real reforms.
“Given the circumstances of where we’re at right now, I don’t think that we can do that,” Marron said. “We have to be honest with people. We have to take meaningful reform.”
Republicans say they have strong reform bills ready to vote on if Democrats would cooperate.
To the governor’s changes to the ethics bill, state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said he should have given the legislative watchdog more independence to investigate wrongdoing of legislators and staff. Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope announced she’s resigning the position because of the lack of strong ethics reforms. Instead, Bourne said the governor’s change impacts the inspectors for executive agencies.
“So he’s actually trying to bring less oversight of his own agencies with his amendatory veto,” Bourne said in a news conference Wednesday.
The governor’s change replaces a requirement in the bill for Executive Inspectors General to get permission to investigate claims from the Executive Ethics Commission.
“The addition of this language inadvertently confuses the clear authority that the EIGs have under current law,” Pritzker said in his message to lawmakers.
Pritzker’s office didn’t respond to a request for reaction to Bourne’s statement.
Reform For Illinois Executive Director Alisa Kaplan said the ethics bill has some good, but also some bad, such as weak limits on how quick a lawmaker can become a lobbyist. She worries what’s past is prologue.
“We’re concerned that sort of like what happened after the Rod Blagojevich scandal where some changes were made, some things were strengthened and they said ‘this is going to be an ongoing process,’ but nothing really happened,” Kaplan told WMAY last week.
It’s unclear if Senate Bill 539 would be called again. If lawmakers don’t agree with the governor, the measure fails to become law.