Editorial: Lawmakers have duty to demonstrate true commitment on ethics

  • Lawmakers are back in Springfield this week for the final days of the fall veto session.

    Lawmakers are back in Springfield this week for the final days of the fall veto session. Associated Press File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/12/2019 10:42 PM

The Illinois General Assembly faces a daunting list of important topics that demand attention in just two remaining days of the fall veto session. Vaping regulations, pension consolidation, ethics reform, compensation for college athletes, clarification of some issues related to marijuana use when it becomes legal next year ... It's hard to imagine lawmakers will accomplish comprehensive answers to all these questions in the little time left to them. But they can make a meaningful start, and on two issues in particular -- ethics and pensions -- failure to take decisive action will jeopardize a timely opportunity for much-needed, long-discussed reforms.

Today, let's focus on ethics -- which Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan both have promised to make a priority. With at least two lawmakers facing federal charges and highly publicized investigations under way involving others, that's a promise Illinoisans expect them to keep.


Granted, there are complexities in some of ethics proposals that deserve thoughtful attention, but the key reforms needed are not that complex. If all that happens this week is that the joint House-Senate conference committee that Cullerton keeps mentioning is formed to "study the issues," that will be a grave disservice to the cause of good, respectable government in Illinois. Indeed, it will be yet another demonstration that the most Illinois' Democratic leaders are willing to do to fight corruption within their ranks is to make purposely impotent public shows of concern.

Substantive action is, or ought to be, readily attainable on several key issues.

It should require but little debate, for instance, to pass a law requiring state lobbyists to identify who is paying them and how much, especially if those lobbyists are state lawmakers.

To that point, it should also be evident on its face that state legislators should not be able to make money lobbying local governments on behalf of private clients.

Likewise, how difficult must it be to require retiring lawmakers to wait some period of time -- ethical states set the standard at at least two years -- before being able to market their influence as hired lobbyists? Current Illinois law allows retiring legislators to turn out the lights as they leave their office on one afternoon and return to the Capitol the next morning to begin peddling special interest legislation.

Nor is there great need for hand wringing over a requirement that lawmakers recuse themselves from voting on potential conflicts of interest or over authorizing the state inspector general to investigate potential legislative wrongdoing without having to get permission from an ethics commission made up of lawmakers themselves.

These are not difficult issues. Most have been discussed and demanded for years. Failure to put them into law at a time when investigations are swirling like dust clouds through the Capitol would be a serious dereliction of legislative responsibility.

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