Ethics reform at top of agenda for final week of veto session
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois lawmakers will return to the Statehouse on Tuesday, with all eyes waiting to see what, if any, action will be taken on ethics reform in the General Assembly.
But a host of other issues are on the table as well, including action that would enable the city of Chicago to attract casino developers, follow-up on the landmark adult-use marijuana legalization bill passed during the regular session, regulations on vaping and flavored tobacco products, and labor relations issues flowing from the U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 decision in the Illinois case Janus v. AFSCME.
The push for ethics reform comes amid a sprawling federal investigation in the Chicago area that has already led to charges being filed against Democratic Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park on allegations of embezzlement and former Democratic Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago, who resigned Nov. 1 after being accused of bribery.
Part of the probe has also focused on Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval, whose offices and Chicago home were raided in September, although no charges have been filed against him.
Hoping to capitalize on Democrats' vulnerability from the probes, Republicans in the Illinois House have introduced a number of ethics reform measures that include strengthening the office of legislative inspector general, requiring more financial disclosure for lawmakers, barring members of the General Assembly from working as lobbyists at the local government level, and forming a bipartisan task force to study more, comprehensive ethics reform measures.
Some Democrats, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Senate President John Cullerton, also have endorsed the idea of a task force. The governor has also proposed requiring lobbyists to disclose more information, including how much they're being paid by their clients, but he suggested much of that work might have to wait until the 2020 regular session.
"We need to look at comprehensive ethics reform in our state," Pritzker told reporters at an event Thursday in Chicago. "And that's why what I've suggested is that with only three legislative days next week, we're not going to be able to get done everything that needs to get done. But we ought to begin."
Lawmakers will be under pressure to address a number of Chicago-related issues, including a bill that would enable the city to attract a casino developer.
The massive gambling expansion bill that lawmakers passed at the end of the spring session authorized such a casino, subject to the completion of a feasibility study. That study, however, ultimately found that such a casino was not feasible, largely due to what the report called an "onerous tax and fee structure" that lawmakers inserted into the bill.
Local governments in Illinois will be waiting to see if the General Assembly will act to clarify how much authority they will have to regulate what kinds of public places, if any, adults will be allowed to use recreational marijuana when that becomes legal Jan. 1.
After concerns were raised about some ambiguity in House Bill 1438, which legalized adult-use marijuana in Illinois, Sen. Heather Steans said in September it was never the intention of the bill's supporters to allow consumption in public places such as restaurants, even though the new law, as written, appears to allow cities to do that.
In a text message Friday, Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said sponsors of the bill will run what is known as a "trailer bill."
Tobacco and vaping
Several bills were introduced last month during the first week of the veto session to ban flavored nicotine products, which many see as deliberate attempts to market to minors. Chief among those is Senate Bill 668, by Senate President Cullerton, known as the Flavored Tobacco Ban Act, which would apply to all tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and chewing tobacco.
Facing stiff opposition from the tobacco industry, though, Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, has since indicated he might support narrowing the bill to focus solely on flavored vaping products.
Another bill by state Sen. Terry Link, an Indian Creek Democrat, Senate Bill 1864, would include electronic cigarettes and other vaping products under the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which would mean that vaping would be banned in most public places just like cigarettes and other smoked tobacco. That bill passed the Senate Oct. 29 and is awaiting House action.
A bill that would affect public employees throughout Illinois also is certain to see action next week. Senate Bill 1784, by Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, deals with the ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus decision, which held that public employees who choose not to join a labor union, but who nonetheless benefit from the union's collective bargaining work, cannot be charged "agency fees" or "fair share" fees to cover the union's costs for that activity.
The case involved Mark Janus, a former child support specialist for the state. After winning his case at the U.S. Supreme Court, he filed another suit seeking reimbursement of all the fees he had paid throughout his 10-year career with the state.
On Nov. 5, a federal appeals court ruled that Janus was not entitled to the fees he paid before the Supreme Court's decision. That ruling may also be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Harmon's bill, meanwhile, would follow the direction that many other states have taken since the decision by declaring that nonunion employees are not entitled to a refund of any fees paid before June 27, 2018, the day of the Janus decision.