A downstate Illinois Democratic Senator is leading a coalition of lawmakers in urging the state ethics commission to consider nine reforms ahead of the commission’s final report.
State Senator Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, is calling on the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to consider including measures aimed at overhauling ethics laws in Illinois.
Manar leads a coalition of Senate and House Democrats who are proposing the nine measures for consideration, which include changes such as term limits for legislative leadership, enacting a policy to temporarily remove a legislator as a leader or committee chair in the event of a charge of indictment, and prohibiting legislators from lobbying elected officials from other units of government.
Manar says the proposed measures are meant to prevent corruption and give greater strength to investigators when they will inevitably need it.
“Unfortunately there’s always going to be public officials that are being investigated by the federal government. I hate to say it but I mean there’s no law that is ever going to prevent that. So even for example if we were to get these nine things passed, which I’m confident we will, there is still going to be investigations into public officials because people make bad choices, and public officials make bad choices, and there’s no law that can 100% prevent that.
What we are focused on is making sure that when that happens there are measures that embed and inject transparency and accountability into our system, and that is how you hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make and the conduct they display when they hold public office, that is what we are after.”
Manar says one measure on the list that deals with personal finances has actually been passed more than once in the Senate, but still fails to be law.
“I think if you rewound the clock back to last spring is when we really started to zero in on these nine specific items. But take for example one very simple one which is updating what is called the Statement of Economic Interest, which is a public document that every elected official, not just legislators, has to fill out about their personal finances.
It’s a major transparency measure in Illinois. We’ve been trying to update that for years, and the Illinois Senate has passed that bill a couple of times and the Illinois House has never taken it up.”
Manar says the Illinois Inspector General also needs a greater ability to investigate potential corruption, and have a greater separation from those under investigation.
“The things that we are proposing is making the legislative Inspector General more independent. That involves two things, number one, the budget of the Inspector General needs to be separate of that of the legislature, it’s a small issue but it’s, meaningful in terms of how money is spent there.
Number two is, we are calling on the Inspector General to have a process for self initiating investigations. Right now that can’t happen without action of the commission that oversees it, and just me saying it sounds convoluted doesn’t it? So we want it to be more clean, and that would give the Inspector General’s Office a greater level of independence which we think is imperative.”
The proposed measures would also prohibit legislators from becoming lobbyists for a minimum of one year after they leave office.
Manar says what is being proposed is long overdue, and the last several years have made it clear there are glaring blind spots in Illinois ethics laws.
The Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform continues to meet, prior to the expected issue of a final report or recommendations.