Senate Week in Review: Jan. 27-31, 2020

Springfield, IL. – The first week of the spring 2020 legislative session began Jan. 28, marked by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first “State of the State” speech Jan. 29. However, the biggest news of the week was the guilty plea made by the former Chicago Democrat State Senator Martin Sandoval to federal charges of bribery and filing a false income tax return. 

The Governor only briefly mentioned corruption in his speech, a topic that deserved greater emphasis. We can and must do more to root out corruption, starting with revamping the state’s process for drawing legislative maps. Also during the week, additional problems with the state’s Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) system came to light. These and earlier issues with the AVR system are raising questions about the integrity of the AVR program. 

Corruption plea
According to investigators and media reports, Sen. Sandoval extorted more than $250,000 in bribes – over a period of several years – in exchange for protecting a red light camera company from state regulation, using his position as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois states, “Sandoval also admitted that he engaged in corrupt activities with other public officials and accepted money from other individuals in return for using his official position to attempt to benefit those individuals and their business interests.” 

One way we can begin to address corruption in Springfield is to reform the way political boundaries are drawn to put more power and influence in the hands of the voters where it belongs. 

“State of the State” fails to address legislative redistricting 
The Governor failed to mention the critical issue of redistricting reform, even though he is on record as a proponent of “Fair Maps.” 

Once an elected official becomes complacent and comfortable in their seat due to the benefit of gerrymandered districts, I think it’s a precursor that leads to greed and corruption. Removing the undue influence of politicians who pick their voters under the current partisan system and adopting a nonpartisan “fair map” solution that puts more power in the hands of voters will help reduce corruption and increase accountability.

Overall, the Governor politically presented a rosy picture of Illinois. He talked a lot about what government has done to created jobs, but as a proponent for less government, and unshackling the ideas and innovation of the people of Illinois, I don’t think he said enough about what individuals and corporations in Illinois have done to grow the economy. Government has a role to play, but it should be reducing regulation and removing the roadblocks that create a burdensome business environment, which restricts free market principles, the bedrock of our economy. 

The Governor also mentioned “bipartisanship” and “working together” numerous times during his speech. My fellow Republican Senators and I stand ready to work with the Governor and lawmakers across the aisle and in the House to advance meaningful property tax reform and promote the kind of economic climate that encourages job creation and growth. While it is true job creation was on the rise in Illinois last year, we continue to lag the rest of the nation as a whole, according to an analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute.   

I invite you to hear all of my comments regarding the State of the State speech at my legislative website. Use the Media tab and click on Podcasts. The direct link is https://senatorwilcox.com/Media/podcasts/. You can also visit the Senate Republican Caucus Podcast page by clicking on the Capitol Report graphic (above left).

Republican lawmakers push for suspension of automatic voter registration
I’m sad to report there are more problems with Illinois’ Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) program. I joined my Senate Republican colleagues sending a letter to the Illinois Secretary of State Jan. 30 reinforcing our desire to get to the bottom of this intolerable situation that harms our electoral process.

One illegal vote is one too many. Our right to vote is fundamental to our Freedom and Liberty. Members of the U.S. Military fought and died to protect our right to vote. 

The latest problems with the AVR program come just days after Gov. Pritzker said there are no plans to suspend the program, even after more than 500 people were mistakenly registered to vote. 

New glitches in the system allowed approximately 4,700 16-year-olds to begin the voter registration process. Additionally, at least 297 people who opted out of automatic voter registration had their information sent to the Illinois’ election authority anyway. 

I have asked for a breakdown of the 4,700 16-year-olds to see what percentage had their interaction with the AVR process between their 16th birthday (getting driver’s license age) and 3 months, which were 3-6 months after 16th birthday, 6-9 months after birthday, or were within 3 months of their 17th birthday (getting closer to having voting rights). This will help determine the actual impact of this recent AVR revelation. 

Unfortunately, this latest letter from the Senate Republican Caucus is the second such letter we’ve sent to the Secretary of State’s office regarding the AVR program. We sent a letter Jan. 21 after revelations that nearly 600 people who admitted they were non-citizens of the US on the driver’s license form were still registered to vote through the AVR system. What is unknown is how many others may have “claimed” to be citizens by checking the box, either intentionally or unintentionally, and were registered, or voted.

That’s why we called for an investigation. The Secretary of State needs to be transparent about their process, describe the voter validation process, and allow outside, independent review of their AVR program. If they resist outside independent review, then the issue may be larger than the numbers reported so far. 

In our latest letter sent Jan. 30 to Secretary of State Jesse White, the members of the Senate Republican Caucus called for the program’s suspension until a thorough investigation can take place to ensure its integrity. You can read the full letter at my legislative website. Here’s the link: https://senatorwilcox.com/News/74/More-problems-with-Illinois-Automatic-Voter-Registration-Program/news-detail/ 

Republican lawmakers make ethics reform a priority for spring session
As investigations into government corruption cases continue to play out in the headlines, passing commonsense legislation, including several measures unveiled last fall by Republican lawmakers, must be a top priority of lawmakers this spring. 

One measure, Senate Bill 2300, seeks to ensure members of the Illinois State Board of Elections aren’t funding political action committees. Under current state law, a person can serve as a member of the State Board of Elections while at the same time running a political action committee that benefits candidates. 

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 lays out the process by which members of the State Board of Elections must resign from political committees:

  • A member of the State Board of Elections serving as an officer of a political committee must resign from that committee within 30 days of his/her appointment confirmation in the Senate.
  • Any current State Board of Elections member has 30 days from the effective date to resign as an officer from any political committee.

Senate Bill 2300 was introduced along with several other ethics reform measures Republican lawmakers contend are needed to clean up Springfield. 

Senate Bill 2297 aims to restore public trust in an honest and ethical state government by ensuring independent investigations of ethics violations. This legislation gives the Legislative Inspector General (LIG) the appropriate tools, which the current LIG has suggested, to conduct independent investigations of legislators.

Currently, except in cases alleging sexual harassment, the LIG must get advance approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC) before opening an investigation, or issuing subpoenas. Additionally, if, during the investigation, the LIG discovers wrongdoing that is beyond the scope of, or unrelated to the initial complaint, they have to go back to the LEC to get approval to investigate further.

Under Senate Bill 2297, the LIG would be able to investigate complaints against legislators and issue subpoenas without approval from the LEC. By taking legislators out of the process, the bill ensures independence in the investigation of these claims.

Another measure that should be allowed to move forward is Senate Bill 1827, which would revamp the statement of economic interest that elected officials are required to fill out. Despite receiving unanimous, bipartisan approval in the Senate, this measure has failed to advance in the House of Representatives. 

Local Event
Lake County Superintendents Breakfast
There was a lot of discussion about taxes and why schools “tax to the max” at the Jan. 24 breakfast. The school officials claim if they don’t max out the tax levy, they will lose those tax dollars forever. That’s ridiculous logic.

If the schools tax to the max to preserve the levy extension for future use, they could immediately abate back to the taxpayers what they don’t need for the next year’s budget. However, they don’t do that and taxpayers suffer. Is it any wonder why Illinois is ranked as having the second-highest property taxes of any state in the country? 

###

Want to stay up to date with Senator Wilcox?

Sign up for his E-Newsletter below: