Following a spate of corruption charges and ongoing investigations revolving around Democratic state lawmakers, several House Republicans publicly voiced their concerns before the end of the veto session last week about the urgent need for ethics reform to restore Illinoisans' trust in the General Assembly.
Illinois state Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said he wanted the legislature to focus on ethics reform for the remaining days of the 2019 session. The veto session ended with the Democratic majority approving two bills while at least nine Republican-backed solutions will have to wait until 2020 for further consideration.
House Joint Resolution 93 establishes a 16-member Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, but mostly Republican critics charge that it skews membership heavily in favor of Democrats and is set to conveniently release its findings after primary season has already ended. Senate Bill 1639 is also being vilified for falling short of seeking any substantive ethics policy changes and fails entirely to address the problem of a sitting General Assembly member being able to lobby a local government.
Illinois state Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville)
"There is no more pressing issue than ethics reform," Spain said before the end of the session. "The legislature should not be sent home until we’ve made meaningful strides to improve ethics in Illinois and restore confidence in our state's government."
Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) emphasized that House Republicans had introduced several pieces of legislation on ethics reform.
"Every day the people of Illinois are waking up and seeing additional issues that are ethical challenges and problems," Demmer said. "We need to take advantage of the opportunity to reform our laws so there are fewer of these in the future and the people of Illinois can have better confidence [in legislators]."
Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) said Democrats are impeding progress on ethics reform.
"They show activity and then absolutely change nothing," Wehrli said. "That’s unacceptable. What are they hiding? Why are we not getting these bills moved? Many of us are going door to door and the number one thing I hear in my district is ethics. There is no more pressing issue. The governor is behind ethics reform. It is time to take action."
Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) said action is imperative.
"Both long- and short-term action is needed now," McCombie said. "I'm calling on Democrats to take up this legislation."
House Bill 3954, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 36, House Resolution 588, House Bill 3947 and House Bill 3955 were all unsuccessfully introduced by House Republicans. The bills, which involve strengthening current requirements around statements of economic interest, requiring special elections to fill General Assembly vacancies, allowing bills that have five co-sponsors from both sides to get a vote in committees, prohibit legislators and immediate family from lobbying for units of local government and creating a mandatory and publicly available register for situations that arise, will be revisited in the next session.