State Senator Donald DeWitte (R-St. Charles) has signed on as a Chief Co-Sponsor of comprehensive ethics reform legislation that seeks to hold politicians more accountable and give prosecutors more powers to investigate public corruption. The legislation was filed in Springfield on Monday as Amendment #1 to Senate Bill 1350.
“We are down to just 12 remaining days of the spring legislative session, and as of today the Senate Ethics Committee has only had one meeting all year,” said Sen. DeWitte. “Senate Republicans have filed over a dozen ethics bills and not one of them has even received a committee hearing. In fact, in this, the next-to-last week of our session year, the Senate Ethics Committee is again not scheduled to meet.”
Whereas current Illinois law only allows the statewide grand jury to be utilized in cases of drugs, gangs, and child pornography, SB 1350 would empower the Illinois Attorney General (AG) to use a statewide grand jury to investigate cases of public corruption. This simple change would allow the Illinois AG to investigate corruption without depending on the federal government and FBI to investigate and issue charges.
SB 1350 would also amend the State RICO law to provide state’s attorneys the authority to use wiretaps to investigate crimes of public corruption. Under current Illinois law, county prosecutors cannot even obtain judicial approval for a wiretap in corruption cases. The proposed change would bring Illinois in line with other states such as New York, which allows local prosecutors to use wiretapping for a wider range of criminal activity, including public corruption.
The new legislation would also provide the Illinois Legislative Inspector General (LIG) greater autonomy to independently investigate allegations of political wrong-doing, by giving the LIG the ability to investigate and issue subpoenas without prior consent of the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC), a panel comprised of sitting lawmakers. Current law requires the panel made up of legislators to authorize any investigation of their fellow legislators.
“The fact that our LIG cannot investigate a legislator’s conduct unless other legislators say it’s OK is laughable,” added Sen. DeWitte. “In order to restore the public trust, we must untie the hands of our LIG, and provide much more autonomy so she can do her work independent of any other member of the General Assembly.”
Additionally, SB 1350 would ban legislators from lobbying other branches of state government or units of local government for compensation, and also require that legislators wait at least one full year, or until the end of the current General Assembly, between when they leave office and when they become a lobbyist – whichever is longer.
“These are all common-sense measures that are long overdue,” said Sen. DeWitte. “The public has lost faith in their government, and we cannot restore the public trust until we strengthen ethics laws and make it easier for prosecutors and investigators to go after the bad actors.”