Wehrli pushes ethics bill to address harassment issue in Capitol
Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) has introduced a bill to amend the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act in the wake of sexual harassment claims in the state Capitol.
“Springfield desperately needs to be cleaned up,” Wehrli said at an impromptu press conference regarding the sexual harassment claims made against elected officials, state employees and lobbyists. “Right now we don’t know what we don’t know, but what we do know is we are going to try and clean up and collectively seek a cure for it.”
House Bill 4151, co-sponsored by Reps. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) and Keith Wheeler (R-North Aurora), sets new requirements for the composition, duration and responsibilities of appointees to the Legislative Ethics Commission.
“Some positive steps have been taken, but unfortunately, they don’t go nearly far enough, which is why we have introduced House Bill 4151,” Wehrli said. “Right now, there is a task force being joined to address some of the issues, but those in Springfield have a tendency to take too long, and there are some immediate steps we can take to cure some of these concerns.”
Wehrli said the legislation will strengthen the conflict of interest provisions by changing how members are appointed to the panel. It will also increase the current $5,000 ethical violation fine to $25,000 per count.
“Right now, it is a leadership-driven initiative where they appoint two members from each caucus and chamber,” Wehrli said. “What House Bill 4151 would do is it would remove leadership from that process. It would make it closely resemble a grand jury or a jury in a normal court of law.”
He said the new commission would have eight members who serve for 60 days at a time.
“They would be required to adjudicate any complaints in those 60 days and then a new legislative ethics commission would be seated, therefore we are getting a rolling membership of Legislative Ethics Commission,” Wehrli said. “It is the closest we can get to peer review without bias.”
According to Wehrli, there is a perceived tendency in Springfield to protect those in authority.
“We need to change that and make sure that the complainants have the rights they are entitled to, to fairly address their concerns,” Wehrli said.
The bill also requires that the legislative inspector general have federal level jurisdiction, not just state or county authority.
“There are highly ethical people that serve in all levels of government in Illinois, but we have this appearance of conflict here,” Wehrli said. “If we can remove that by getting people of federal experience appointed, it removes that potential political process.”
He said to date, up to 27 ethical complaints have gone unaddressed with no sitting inspector general.
“The fact that this office is vacant dumbfounds me,” Wehrli said, adding that he hopes HB4151 will offer complainants a transparent and fair path to follow when filing grievances.
“They deserve a prompt response,” Wehrli said. “For some of these complaints to languish for years is completely inexcusable.”