Fall veto session comes to a close as lawmakers face challenges
In a busy fall veto override session, Illinois legislators overrode more than a dozen of Gov. Bruce Rauner's vetoes, nearly a third of total vetoes on record.
However, one issue received bipartisan support and was confirmed by both chambers and the governor. Sexual harassment legislation was front and center in the session.
State officials are responding to an open letter regarding alleged sexual harassment cases in the state government. Those close to the process are reporting that a backlog of sexual harassment complaints is sitting in limbo after having been delayed due to the lack of a legislative inspector general in charge of the state’s ethics commission. Candidates for state office and others around Illinois have been asking why it took so long to get the role filled and whether state lawmakers were taking ethics violations seriously or providing a convenient veneer of accountability.
In remarks to Jak Tichenor, the host of Illinois Lawmakers program, Sen. Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) said sexual harassment seems to be prevalent everywhere.
“I don't think we're any different than state assemblies all over the nation,” McConnaughay said, saying that sexual harassment has been a “poorly kept secret” in state offices. She also described the struggle to cultivate a sense of transparency and accountability to these offices.
Now, Julie Porter has been selected to fill the inspector general role, and lawmakers are pushing new measures such as a sexual harassment hotline and sexual harassment training for all legislators and lobbyists.
“Actions have been taken quite swiftly,” Christine Castro of the state ethics commission said, noting that after months of inaction, many state officials are now taking the issue seriously. Castro called Porter highly qualified but said her work needs to be supported by the legislation to deal with bottlenecks. The goal, she said, is to bring back credibility to state offices.
Additionally, a number of Rauner’s vetoes were overridden by legislators. One such measure is the Debt Transparency Act, HB 3649, which Rauner reportedly called “micromanaging” state money; however, Democratic lawmakers say the state needs this transparency to work quickly to move past a 2.5-year budget impasse and stressing the need to take concrete steps to reform the state’s budget process.
“We had to take action fast," said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) on the Illinois Lawmakers Special Veto Session program. “We didn't want to delay the appropriations process anymore.”
Another override referred to student-loan protections for borrowers in Senate Bill 1351. Some reforms in this bill require licensing for loan providers and more transparency about student borrowing. Although Rauner had reportedly communicated to lawmakers that he felt the new bill would “complicate an already complex student loan process,” the law will go into effect at the end of next year.
Other overrides were not successful such as a challenge to the governor's plan to create right-to-work zones in which workers can opt out of unions. A provision called SB 1905 would have set up collective-bargaining areas in which some union interactions would be mandatory. Rauner "wrote that this approach hurts businesses and the workers’ freedom to choose," NPR reported. SB 1905 was vetoed.
Rauner also vetoed HB 2462, which would have banned some types of screening for job applicants according to wage or salary history.
A $15 minimum-wage bill, SB 81, was vetoed by the governor and did not get an override attempt. Other bills stalled, including a suicide-prevention bill and a bill for publicly funded matching donor program for campaigns.
In other news, Rauner reportedly signed HB 40, allowing abortion to be covered by state-employee health insurance plans. Critics of this bill are asking whether the move will hurt Rauner in an upcoming governor’s primary race.
"Today, after promising not to do so, Gov. Rauner signed HB40 into law a bill that forces taxpayers to fund abortions," Rep. Allen Skillicorn (R-Crystal Lake) said, according to the McHenry Times. "There are many things this law will ensure. It will ensure that Illinois taxpayers will be paying $30 million more in Medicaid they cannot afford. It will ensure that thousands of babies will be aborted. It will ensure that no one will trust the commitments made by this governor. And, finally, it will ensure that Rauner serves only one-term."
Rauner faces a challenge in the primary by Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) and according to reporting in Prairie State Wire, Rauner "has lost a growing list of allies in the conservative community after signing into law HB40."