Senate Week in Review November 11-15, 2019

Springfield — The fall Veto Session came to a close during the week with the final days’ main focus firmly on combating the ethics problems currently plaguing the state. 

Senate Republicans stood up for true bipartisanship in the composition of a committee to examine the state’s ethics laws, and several ethics-related proposals were introduced. Also during the week, a pension consolidation measure cleared the General Assembly. 

Senate Republicans Stand Strong for Ethics Reform
During the final hours of the fall Veto Session, the Senate Republican Caucus united in support of real ethics reform, standing in opposition to House Joint Resolution 93 – a measure that would create a Democrat-controlled commission to consider ethics reform. 

Members of the Senate Republican Caucus unanimously opposed House Joint Resolution 93, arguing that if the desired outcome is real, substantial ethics reforms, the committee should be truly balanced. 

“With the cloud of scandal hanging over the Dome, we need to be taking up serious ethics reforms not punting to another partisan task force,” the caucus said in a statement issued before the vote. 

I also supported the idea of adding citizen representatives to the commission, so there would be a non-governmental review of proposals eventually recommended by the panel. Instead, the commission will be comprised of government representatives, including legislators who are supposedly trying to fix lapses involving legislators. 

Under the measure the Commission will be comprised of: 

  • Four Democrat legislators (two representatives, two senators) Co-Chairs for the Commission will be chosen by the Senate President and Speaker of the House from this group.
  • Four Republican legislators (two representatives, two senators)
  • Two members from the Office of the Attorney General appointed by the Attorney General (one of whom will be the Executive Inspector General for the Office)
  • Two members from the Office of the Secretary of State appointed by the Secretary of State (one of whom will be the Executive Inspector General for the Office)
  • Four members appointed by the Governor (no more than two Democrats)

Ahead of the vote, Senate Republican members made an attempt to bring partisan balance to the commission, filing an amendment that would give equal voting power to Republicans and Democrats by making the appointees from the Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Secretary of state non-voting members. 

Ultimately, the Senate Republican amendment was not called for a vote and the resolution was adopted along party lines. As this is a resolution, it does not require a signature from the Governor. The Commission must submit its report to the General Assembly by March 31, 2020. 

Watered down financial disclosure bill passes
When Senate Bill 1639 was originally introduced, and eventually passed by the Senate, it was intended to require both legislators and lobbyists to disclose debts above $5,000 on publicly-available Statements of Economic Interest. Disclosure invites scrutiny. 

Unfortunately, when the House took up the legislation on the last day of the Veto Session, they stripped out the portion affecting legislators, leaving only lobbyists having to abide by the stricter disclosure rules. A wary public might ask, what are they hiding and who are they protecting? The measure now heads to the Governor for consideration. 

Proposal seeks to stop legislators from working as lobbyists at the local level
Spurred by recent headlines, a new legislative measure was filed that would prevent lawmakers from being compensated to lobby. 

Senate Bill 2302 would prohibit a member of the General Assembly from lobbying local governments or the state’s Executive Branch in return for compensation. The legislation also prohibits lawmakers’ spouses and immediate family members from lobbying for compensation at any level of government. 

Currently, a member of the General Assembly cannot lobby the General Assembly for compensation; however, there is nothing that would prevent state-level lawmakers from engaging in lobbying at the local level or the state’s Executive Branch. 

This loophole is how some legislators are able to profit from lobbying local governments, which some say amounts to leveraging the influence of their elected office for personal gain. 

Currently, the Republican-sponsored legislation has not been assigned to a committee. 

Republican legislators take aim at conflict of interest for Illinois State Board of Elections
New legislation announced on Nov. 13 aims to ensure members of the Illinois State Board of Elections aren’t funding or controlling political committees. 

Under current law, a person can both serve as a member of the Illinois State Board of Elections and run a political action committee (PAC) benefitting candidates at the same time. Senate Bill 2300 aims to change this obvious conflict of interest. 

Senate Bill 2300 would prohibit a member of the State Board of Elections from also contributing to or being an officer of a state or federal political committee. The bill also stipulates that a member of the State Board of Elections serving as an officer of a PAC must resign from that committee within 30 days of their appointment confirmation in the Senate.

Any current State Board of Elections member would have 30 days from the effective date to resign as an officer from any political committee. The bill has not been assigned to a committee for a public hearing. 

Pension Consolidation Bill Clears the General Assembly
A proposal to consolidate the investment functions of Illinois’ 650 downstate and suburban fire and police pension systems cleared the General Assembly during the final week of the fall Veto Session. 

I voted no because we don’t have an analysis to prove that the benefits of consolidation will outweigh the costs to the pension plans. Another reason, is that there’s no guarantee a currently well-performing fund would enjoy the same return on investment by having their funds handed over to a state entity – when the state has a poor record of managing its own pension funds.

Senate Bill 1300, if signed into law, would consolidate the assets of 650 local police and fire pension boards and put them under the control of two separate boards. One board would be established to administer investments for local fire pensions and another would be created to administer investments for local police pensions. 

Proponents of the measure say the plan creates the potential for greater investment returns and helps to stabilize these pension funds so that promises made to first-responders can be kept, but the unanswered questions were a hurdle too high for my support. Senate Bill 1300 now sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting a signature. 

Senate President to retire
As the Veto Session concluded, Senate President John Cullerton announced he was retiring after 41 years in the General Assembly. From 1978 to 1991, he served in the Illinois House. He became a State Senator in 1992 and was elected Senate President 10 years ago. 

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