CHICAGO – As the Illinois House returned to Springfield today, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich urged the General Assembly to accept a package of ethics reforms which would enhance accountability to Illinoisans by requiring state elected officials to serve their constituents’ needs and not the needs of special interests. Over the last month the Governor issued an executive order and improved legislation that, if approved, would give Illinois lawmakers some of the most comprehensive ethics laws in the nation.
“This week, the General Assembly has the opportunity to vote for legislation to give Illinoisans renewed trust in their elected officials. In our current political climate, double-dipping legislators hold other public jobs, putting their allegiances into question. Other legislators work as paid lobbyists, but don’t have to report their work to their constituents. Each of these public servants are serving their own interests at a time when we should be focused on passing a jobs bill, expanding access to healthcare, and protecting Illinoisans from higher taxes,” said Governor Rod R. Blagojevich.
By issuing the Executive Order 2009-3 on August 26th, which applies to agencies under the Governor the provisions contained in House Bill 824, the Governor provided an unprecedented opportunity for each member of the Illinois General Assembly to take additional, bold steps on ethics reforms without fear of compromising the reforms in the underlying bill. The order prohibits campaign contributions from businesses, their affiliates and affiliated persons, with state contracts totaling more than $50,000, to state constitutional officers and members of the General Assembly or any candidate for those offices.
This executive order also takes the General Assembly’s language from House Bill 824 one step further by ensuring that legislators work within the same standards set out for the constitutional officers. State procurement bidders will certify compliance with the Executive Order, and the Inspector General will maintain oversight.
Today in Springfield, the House has the opportunity to act on the first of two bills that were recently improved. First, the Governor used his amendatory veto power to improve the ethics package provided in House Bill 824. The improvements include:
· Requires legislators to affirmatively accept pay raises: Unlike the current system, legislative pay raises would have to be passed by both houses in order to take effect.
· Bans double-dippers: Outside employment by legislators with any unit of state, county or municipal government would be prohibited. Exceptions are provided for teachers, school counselors, university instructors, police officers, firefighters and local elected officials).
· Full lobbying disclosure: Lawmakers and their spouses must disclose lobbying activity for boards, commissions or units of local government. Legislators would be required to disclose their client, who they lobbied, and their fees.
Last month, the Governor also improved Senate Bill 2190 which will prohibit certain political parties from accepting contributions from employees of state agencies, municipalities, and units of local governments. Political committees who accepted contributions from these workers would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000. If the legislature accepts the Governor’s changes, Illinois will be the first state in the country to implement a contributions ban this strong.
The Governor’s action over the last month is the latest effort by Blagojevich to bring transparency to State government. The Governor passed the most comprehensive ethics reform package in Illinois history in 2003.
Those reforms included creating an independent inspector general, establishing an Ethics Hotline, mandating ethics training for all state employees, banning taxpayer-funded advertisements featuring constitutional officers or members of the General Assembly and keeping state workers from leaving government and immediately accepting jobs with companies that they regulated or helped award state contracts.