Greater independence for Illinois’ Legislative Inspector General draws bipartisan support

Greater independence for Illinois’ Legislative Inspector General draws bipartisan support

Illinois’ Legislative Inspector General currently is subjected to political influence or even silencing by members of the General Assembly.

Three recent Statehouse resignations related to corruption show Illinois desperately needs a way to hold lawmakers accountable, but the current law allows the Illinois General Assembly’s watchdog to be tightly controlled by lawmakers.

That watchdog, the Legislative Inspector General, would gain greater power to conduct investigations and release findings without pushback from lawmakers under House Bill 4558, filed by state Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook. State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, signed on to cosponsor the legislation.

Under the proposal, the inspector general would be allowed to open investigations and issue subpoenas without approval from lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission. If the inspectors find wrongdoing, they will be allowed to release their findings to the public.

The current process came under fire after former Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter testified that lawmakers were restricting her ability to conduct oversight.

“Although I completed dozens of investigations without incident, in some significant matters, when I did find wrongdoing and sought to publish it, state legislators charged with serving on the Legislative Ethics Commission blocked me,” she testified at a hearing of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform.

Lawmakers have been able to deny the inspector permission to open investigations and issue subpoenas. They have also had the ability to block summary reports from being published, even if the inspector concluded a violation had occurred.

Public corruption has struck the General Assembly hard during the past year. Three state lawmakers resigned after being arrested or found to be the subject of federal investigations.

Corruption has not been the only issue to plague the General Assembly recently. Sexual harassment was prevalent and lawmakers took action to create better ethics oversight in the wake of abuse by expanding the inspector’s powers to investigate those cases without lawmaker approval. The same standard should be held for any ethics violation.

As public trust in Illinois government continues to wane, lawmakers must take action to show they are serious about independent ethics reform. Lawmakers should no longer be able to influence oversight of their own behaviors. Taxpayers need to know how their representatives behave so they can hold them accountable.

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