* From Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago)…
Tuesday, Speaker Madigan reversed course from his earlier denials over the concerns I raised about retaliation and requested an investigation by the Legislative Inspector General. While I applaud his openness to an inquiry, I continue to have very real concerns about the venue he’s selected.
The Office of Legislative Inspector General made headlines late last year after it was revealed that the position of LIG had remained vacant for 3 years, a situation many in the Capitol were completely unaware of, despite the early discussions about problems with harassment in our Capitol. During the time the office was vacant, several complaints piled up unaddressed and we had to pass emergency legislation to extend the statute of limitation on cases that had died of neglect during that time. Some members of the General Assembly, myself included, suggested that the statute empowering the LIG be overhauled at the same time to better equip a new LIG to truly operate independently, but the changes made were limited to the timeline extension at that time.
While the reasons for the lengthy vacancy in the office of Legislative Inspector General were never publicly reported, news reports at the time suggest that the issue related to a situation where the LIG found cause to launch an investigation and was denied permission to open an investigation by the partisan leadership appointees to the Legislative Ethics Commission. It bears repeating here - the Inspector General cannot proceed with an investigation unless a panel of members of the body they are charged with overseeing grants them the permission to do so. The flaws in the process don’t stop there though, it is riddled with trap doors, blind alleys and loopholes designed to allow political consideration to bury any complaint that is politically inconvenient. In addition to the lack of true independence in choosing whether to proceed to the investigative phase, other problems include:
◼ Neither the LIG nor the Ethics commission are required to publicly share any information about complaints, investigations, or findings by the LIG, which is the mechanism that allows the partisan nature of the Ethics Commission to keep facts from the public.
◼ The Legislative Ethics Commission, the group of General Assembly members appointed by legislative leadership (4 Democrats and 4 Republicans), has the power to reject any findings of an Inspector General.
◼ A simple majority vote is required to move an action forward and no provision exists for breaking the tie vote, so anything serious could die for the lack of one vote. As a result, party line voting on the commission all but guarantees no serious consequences exist.
◼ The minutes of the meetings of the Legislative Ethics Commission are not required to be publicly disclosed.
There are a couple of pieces of legislation moving through the Senate now, where members are working together in a bipartisan fashion to find workable solutions to the problems in both the Legislative Inspector General’s office and the Department of Human Rights. The proposed changes to the Ethics Act are simple and straightforward and I stand ready to support these changes when the bill comes over to the House.
The proposed changes to the Ethics Act, carried by Sens. Cristina Castro and Karen McConnaghy, include:
◼ Most importantly, the bill will remove the outrageous barrier to investigative independence by removing the provisions requiring the Legislative Inspector General to seek the permission of the Ethics Commission before opening an investigation. As mentioned above, Illinois is the ONLY state in the country with such a provision in their Ethics Act.
◼ The bill will bring desperately needed transparency and accountability to the Office and the Commission, requiring publication of case summaries in instances where a violation has been found as well as mandating public release of meeting minutes. A supermajority, which by the design of the Ethics Commission would require bipartisan cooperation, will be required to quash the release of any case summary.
◼ Critically important for restoring faith in the process, four members of the public would join the Ethics Commission.
◼ Ethics Commission members involved in cases would be required to recuse themselves and be temporarily replaced on the commission.
◼ Finally, the bill sets out a process for the timely replacement of the Legislative Inspector General in the case of a vacancy.
Each chamber has other pieces of legislation on the topic, but progress has been limited. Just as I suggested last fall when this all began, it would be ideal if we could have started this process with the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral task force seeking real solutions to improve the workplace we all share.
* DemToo? GOP fans out to hang #MeToo around Democrats’ necks: But Collin Corbett, a Republican consultant working on several legislative races, says the focus makes perfect political sense. “You’re going to see this in every campaign. It’s going to be highlighted in every campaign, whether it’s for state Senate or state House, unless the Democratic candidate is willing to go out and oppose Mike Madigan, which none of them have the guts to do,” Corbett said. Corbett said the #metoo movement “goes to the heart of Democratic support.” “It goes to the heart of Democratic control of the state because they control the suburbs, and suburban women are the most important bloc in any statewide campaign,” Corbett said. “You’re not going to see this as much of a problem in Downstate races. You’ll see it front and center in the suburbs.”
* Sen Kwame Raoul: “I’ve worked with Representative Kelly Cassidy for many years as a trusted colleague and close personal friend. She has my full support, not just in sharing her story this week but for the critical work she is doing on the bipartisan Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention task force.
I know they are working hard to address these issues and understand they will be releasing legislative proposals in the coming days. Representative Cassidy and I agree that this issue should not be politicized. It is too important, not only in her case but for all women. As Attorney General, I look forward to building upon this panel’s work to change the culture and ensure that all citizens have access to support and justice.”
* Ethics board says it lacks jurisdiction to take up sexual harassment inquiry into Madigan ally: In addition to the ethics panel, Hampton also wrote to City Hall’s top watchdog in her request for a review. On Wednesday, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson signaled there’s little room left for his office to pursue the Hampton request. “The Board of Ethics is the adjudicator,” Ferguson said. “When a judge says there is no jurisdiction, that effectively ends the matter.
* Republican calls Madigan investigation conflict of interest: Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D- Skokie), one of Madigan’s most loyal allies, says McConnaughay’s argument seems politically motivated and illogical. “The purpose of the ethics commission is to externally take a look at what’s going on in our system, whether it be staff or members and so there would be an inherent conflict in any claim made under that test and I just don’t think that’s appropriate,” says Lang. Lang says the commission is assessing rules internally but welcomes legislative changes if need be.
* Two anti-sex harassment bills go to Rauner’s desk: House Bill 4242 would require local governments and school districts to make public within 72 hours the name of any employee accepting a severance payment due to being accused of sexual harassment within 72 hours, unless there is a confidentiality clause in that employee’s contract. HB 4243 prohibits state legislators from using public money to pay off victims of harassment to keep quiet. Despite wide support in committee and in both houses of the legislature, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois opposes HB 4242. … [Ben Ruddell, an attorney with the ACLU] said the public posting requirement creates a “pseudo-sex offender registry,” which could lead to further invasions of privacy for government employees.