* Way back in the early 1990s, I worked for Hannah Information Service. It was essentially a private LIS with “modern” features and additions.
In those days, the General Assembly’s LIS was a dial-up bulletin board system open 8 hours a day, five days a week. You had to consult a thick book and then enter long “libsynch” codes to pull up any information. It was truly a pain in the posterior and very inconvenient.
Hannah, a Michigan company, created a menu-driven system and kept it “live” 24/7. The company downloaded all of the info from LIS, made it much easier to read and resold it. I can still remember the day when we finally convinced LIS to install a 9600 baud modem, which we paid for.
This was pre “mouse,” so while there were no libsynch codes, you had to enter digits helpfully displayed on your screen to navigate to what you needed. For those days, it was easy-peasy.
I wrote the daily “Hannah Report” back then and also managed our team of committee reporters.
The committee reporters would take notes on all debates and record the roll calls. Committee roll calls were not publicly available in those days and lots of legislators were very upset that we were recording their votes. Actually, “upset” is not he word. They were furious, and there were multiple attempts to shut us down, particularly after my column got a whole lot more pointed.
* Anyway, I told you that story to give you some background about how important this seemingly innocuous development is…
The Illinois House Clerk is making committee roll call votes available soon to folks who visit the Illinois General Assembly’s website.
“This is a positive step toward greater transparency,” said longtime Statehouse observer Mike Lawrence. “It will help shift the focus of political discourse from rhetoric to records.”
I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get those official records online. The Senate has not yet followed suit…
Senate Secretary Tim Anderson said his chamber is not yet ready to begin publishing committee roll calls online. He added the chamber is experimenting with transmitting more committee data electronically and may post online committee roll calls in the future.
It should be done.
Back when I was at Hannah, I was once threatened with arrest for grabbing a paper copy of a Senate amendment which had not yet been voted on by a committee. The amendments were supposed to be “secret.” But they were only secret to the non-insider public. They’re now all online.
About a dozen years ago I came up with a business idea of transmitting House and Senate floor debate live on the Internet. I was blocked from doing that. But now you can even get House committee live streams online.
Progress here is slow. And not always sure.
* I always try to maintain a healthy skepticism on ethics reform attempts because so many have not produced the intended results. Other reporters often treat reformers like gods. But those alleged gods often don’t know the first thing about what they’re trying to reform.
But this doesn’t look like a bad idea at all. From a press release…
Lt. Governor Sheila Simon joined State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) [last week] to introduce ethics reform legislation that will overhaul the much-maligned financial disclosure forms filed by tens of thousands of public servants each year.
The bill proposes a new disclosure form – known as a Statement of Economic Interests – that would require filers to list outside sources of income, lobbyist relationships and loans made or accepted on terms not available to the general public, for the first time. It also closes loopholes that allowed filers to answer “not applicable” to almost all of the questions on the current version of the form introduced 40 years ago.
Simon said the goal of the new form is to help Illinois residents determine if elected officials, high-ranking employees and candidates hold any conflicts of interest. The new form will also be easier for filers to complete thanks to the plain-language questions, definitions of terms and obvious connections to information found on tax returns and investment statements.
“At over 40-years-old, it’s time our financial disclosure forms get a facelift,” Simon said. “This legislation is about making our Statement of Economic Interests more understandable for the people who fill them out, and making them more transparent for those who want to get information from them.”
* From the News-Gazette…
In a stunning statistic released by Simon’s office, it was revealed “none” or “not applicable” was the response to 75 percent of the answers to the questions on state forms. Simon said that the same answers were given 85 percent of the time in Cook County.
In other words, the disclosure forms don’t disclose much, if anything, either because the questions are so vague as to be easily avoided or people filling the forms out do not fear being held accountable for their misstatements.
That’s not unlike judicial disclosure forms. Judges are required to fill out reports detailing their outside income and reveal any possible conflicts of interest or violations of rules of judicial conduct. But no one checks the forms.
What Simon and Kotowski propose is a much more thorough set of questions that would seek information on officials’ outside employment, relationships with lobbyists and more exact details about the type and size of investments people hold.
It’s hard to determine possible conflicts of interest if you don’t know what interests could be in conflict. More complete disclosure would make a huge difference.
The bill is here.
* And a southern Illinois hiring scandal comes to an end with a small fine…
A former top state transportation employee has been fined $4,000 in connection with a summer job hiring scandal at the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Danny Clayton, who was removed from his $102,000 post as assistant regional engineer in the agency’s District 9 Carbondale office nearly two years ago, was found by the state’s executive ethics commission to have violated state ethics law.
At issue were allegations that Clayton tampered with tests used to grade potential employees of a 2009 summer jobs program. Investigators suggested Clayton may have altered scores or asked applicants to take tests a second time to boost their results.
Clayton also was found to have attempted to convince a co-worker to lie about the scandal to investigators.
That employee, Michael Bigler, blew the whistle on Clayton and told investigators he was being pressured by Clayton to cover up the tampering.
One can only now wonder if the executive commission will go after Gov. Pat Quinn for that ridiculous youth “jobs” program up north.