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Local

Bivins sponsors bill to amend ethics law

Bill comes as lawmakers return to work amid sexual misconduct allegations

Tim Bivins
Tim Bivins

SPRINGFIELD – A local legislator knows that in order for his fellow lawmakers solve the sexual-harassment quandary that’s engulfed the Statehouse, they have to be part of the solution.

He just doesn’t want them to be the part that sits on the state’s Legislative Ethics Commission.

State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, is sponsoring a bill that would amend Illinois ethics law. If Senate Bill 2263 is passed, lawmakers, political party leaders and lobbyists would no longer be allowed to serve on the commission.

Bivins’ bill comes as the Illinois General Assembly returned to Springfield on Tuesday for the final days of its fall session after spending last week wrestling the sexual-harassment issue.

In a flurry of activity Tuesday …

• The House unanimously adopted legislation sponsored by Chicago Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan to explicitly bar sexual harassment in the state ethics code and require annual awareness training for all employees.

• The House unanimously approved a resolution urging a commitment to change the culture that breeds sexual harassment.

• Both the House and Senate unanimously endorsed expanded authority for the Legislature’s new inspector general. The measure would allow the state’s first new inspector general in 2 years, Julie Porter, to investigate more than two dozen ethics complaints filed while the office was vacant. The state ethics law in many cases limits the time to resolve such complaints to 1 year. The bill now heads to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.

Lawmakers’ focus shifted when critics pointed out how long the inspector general’s office had been vacant. Then a legislative advocate publicized her experience with sexual harassment in the Capitol, and pointed out there had been no one to investigate her case or other cases. Porter, a former federal prosecutor, was hurriedly named temporarily to the post Saturday.

With allegations swirling around the General Assembly, the ethics panel must be made as independent as possible, Bivins said, and his bill would help provide that independence.

“If we are to attempt to restore trust in the system, then we need to change the appearance of legislators sitting in judgment over other legislators,” the former Lee County sheriff said. “This is the same standard that many legislators have demanded be applied to law enforcement.”

The law on the books bars prospective appointees, including legislators, from serving if they have been convicted of a felony, have lobbied in Springfield during the last year, or are related to a state officer or employee or the person appointing them.

SB2263 would automatically rule out anyone who has been a state employee or member of the General Assembly in the last 10 years. Anyone who has been a registered lobbyist in the last decade also would be ineligible to serve on the ethics panel.

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