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EYE ON ILLINOIS: With GOP ethics proposal details, compromise is on horizon

Consensus is forming.

That much is evident following last week’s rollout of Senate Republicans’ ethics proposals.

Not content with waiting for the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to reconvene — a reminder there’s no good reason its members can’t finish the report due in March — a handful of GOP Senators conducted an online news conference to announce bills they’ll back to target a culture of corruption in Springfield.

General Assembly Democrats pushed their nine-point plan in mid-August, and it’s encouraging to see some proposals on both lists.

The Democrats and Republicans say it’s time to give the Legislative Inspector General the power to investigate lawmakers without getting the Legislative Ethics Commission’s pre-approval. They also agree we need limits on how soon lawmakers can turn to lobbying after leaving office, should not let sitting lawmakers lobby elected officials from any other governmental unit and need to tweak economic interest statements so more potential conflicts might be disclosed.

This common ground sets the framework for legislation that could conceivably pass during the fall veto session in November and December. In the meantime, while candidates are working hard to garner support, voters would do well to ask politicians and campaign volunteers for their takes on these ideas. Ethics reform isn’t the only pressing issue in Illinois, but anyone running for office should have an opinion on these plans.

The best of the GOP-endorsed proposals not currently matched on Democrat’s’ list include letting the attorney general create grand juries for investigating, indicating and prosecuting lawmakers for bribery and other misconduct and reconstituting the Legislative Ethics Commission to be made up of people who aren’t already elected legislators.

A highlight of the Democrats’ agenda is a policy that would temporarily remove lawmakers from any leadership posts or committee chairmanships during ongoing criminal investigations or following charges or indictments. They also want to make the Legislative Inspector General independent in terms of budgets and hiring.

It’s likely those notions also will garner bipartisan support, but until that commitment is proven voters would do well to press the issue.

Republicans also want to give wiretap authority to state’s attorneys. Democrats want to establish term limits on legislative leadership posts. Neither is as explicitly impactful as the other ideas, but everything deserves to at least be discussed at this point.

Of all the lawmaker quotes concerning these ideas, my favorite is from Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, regarding the Democrats who actually control if legislation advances:

“The supermajority is filled with good people who, I’m sure, the overwhelming majority of them are just as embarrassed by what they hear and read and see going on with their colleagues as we all are.”

Only votes can prove that correct.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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