Ethics Reform, Marijuana Among Items for Final Week of Veto Session in Springfield

By Jeremy Coumbes on November 12, 2019 at 8:37am

Illinois lawmakers return to the Statehouse today, with all eyes waiting to see what, if any, action will be taken on ethics reform in the General Assembly.

But several other issues are on the table as well, as reported by Capitol News Illinois’ Peter Hancock, including follow-up on the landmark adult-use marijuana legalization bill passed during the regular session, regulations on vaping and flavored tobacco products and labor relations issues.

The push for ethics reform comes amid a federal investigation in the Chicago area that has already led to charges filed against Democratic Sen. Tom Cullerton for embezzlement and former Democratic Rep. Luis Arroyo, who resigned Nov. 1 after being arrested for bribery.

Part of the probe also focused on Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval, whose Statehouse office and home were raided in September, although no charges were filed against him. A spokesman for the Senate Democratic Caucus noted Friday agents did not execute a search warrant on his district office in Cicero, as has been reported previously, although he said agents did pay an unannounced visit to that office to ask questions.

Republicans in the Illinois House introduced a number of ethics reform measures that include strengthening the office of Legislative Inspector General, requiring more financial disclosure for lawmakers, barring members of the General Assembly from working as lobbyists at the local government level and forming a bipartisan task force to study more, comprehensive ethics reform measures.

Some Democrats, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Senate President John Cullerton, also endorsed the idea of a task force. The governor additionally proposed requiring lobbyists to disclose more information, including how much they’re being paid by their clients, but he suggested much of that work might have to wait until the 2020 regular session.

Pritzker told reporters at an event Thursday in Chicago that with only three legislative days next week, the General Assembly is not going to be able to get done everything that needs to get done, but that ‘we ought to begin.”

Among issues that are likely to be acted on this week, local governments in Illinois will be waiting to see if the General Assembly will act to clarify how much authority they will have to regulate what kinds of public places, if any, adults will be allowed to use recreational marijuana when that becomes legal Jan. 1.

Several bills were introduced during the first week of the veto session to institute a statewide ban on flavored nicotine products, which many see as deliberate attempts to market to minors.

Chief among those is Senate bill 668, by Senate President Cullerton, known as the “Flavored Tobacco Ban Act,” which would apply to all tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and chewing tobacco.

Facing stiff opposition from the tobacco industry, though, Cullerton has since indicated he might support narrowing the bill to focus solely on flavored vaping products.

A bill that affects public employees throughout Illinois also is certain to see action next week. Senate Bill 1784, by Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, deals with the ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which held that public employees who choose not to join a labor union, but who nonetheless benefit from the union’s collective bargaining work, cannot be charged what are known as “agency fees” or “fair share” fees to cover the union’s costs for that activity.

The case involved Mark Janus, a former child support specialist for the state. After winning his case at the U.S. Supreme Court, he filed another suit seeking reimbursement of all the fees he had paid throughout his 10-year career with the state.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, a federal appeals court ruled that Janus was not entitled to the fees he paid before the Supreme Court’s decision. That ruling may also be appealed to the Supreme Court.