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Illinois Democrats present ideas for ethics reform amid Madigan investigation

Springfield, Il (WSIL) -- A coalition of Democratic state lawmakers is joining their Republican colleagues in calls for ethics reform in Springfield. They say it's time to tighten rules, create transparency, and finally end the culture of corruption in Illinois politics. Although the chorus is growing for change under the dome, House Speaker Mike Madigan still holds a tight grip on bills passing through the General Assembly.

"The culture in Springfield is broken. I think you've been hearing that from us all," said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

Sixteen Democrats are pushing for nine proposals to be included with the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying's final report to the General Assembly. The commission's recommendations for lawmakers were initially due in March, but the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped those plans. Now, legislators are calling for the group to reconvene and finish the job.

Changing the culture

The Democrats hope to see plans to prohibit legislator-lobbyists, stop the revolving door, and clearly define what constitutes a lobbyist.

"We have to come forward publicly, and we're not going to stop until we get real systemic change that the people of the state of Illinois absolutely deserve," said Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake).

Suggested legislative reforms include an expansion of financial disclosure requirements and establishing an official censure for lawmakers violating ethics laws. They also hope to strengthen the Legislative Inspector General's office and end the lawmaker exemption from the Human Rights Act.

"We are calling on our colleagues to join us in acting as non-conformers, to challenge the status quo, and to change the rules that allowed the General Assembly leaders to use their offices to build empires of power," emphasized Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago).

These Democrats are also pushing for legislative leader term limits in both chambers. Another proposal would create a temporary removal policy for leaders and committee chairs under criminal investigation.

"Anyone who fails to live up to these standards or uses their position of power and influence for personal gain rather than the public good should not be an elected official," Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) said. "They should not even run for office."

Some of the lawmakers feel these changes are critical to holding all elected officials accountable. They emphasized the purpose of this effort stretches beyond one man's power.

"The General Assembly needs to prove to the citizens of Illinois that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and make historic and significant ethics reforms a reality," added Rep. Yoni Pizer (D-Chicago).

"Political theater"

Republicans on the Commission welcome these ideas, but they hope Democrats will join their call for a special session. Above all, they want to see more members committing to vote Speaker Madigan out of leadership.

"Every House member that took part in today’s press conference voted to put Mike Madigan in the Speaker’s chair and voted to accept his Rules of his House," stated Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville). "While I applaud those who went on the record again today saying the Speaker should resign, this is merely political theater and window dressing."

Lawmakers from both parties have introduced similar proposals for years, but they have been overlooked. Democrats agree ethics and lobbying have to be a top priority during the scheduled veto session in November.

"We believe this set of reasonable proposals will show the taxpayers of Illinois that we are serious about reforming our state government," explained Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill).

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