Legislative Session has concluded for the year in the General Assembly. In this newsletter are topics that were discussed during last week’s veto session, including ethics reform. I am disappointed that more ethics legislation was not addressed. While ethics bills were passed in the House of Representatives, these were the smallest effort in fixing our gaping holes and much more work still needs to be done.
House Republicans call for passage of sweeping ethics reform package. In the wake of even more federal corruption investigations entangling multiple layers of Illinois government, I joined my House Republican colleagues in a continued effort for comprehensive ethics reform. Members of the House Republican caucus held a Capitol press conference to call on the General Assembly to take up a sweeping package of legislation to tackle the long overdue problem. This is the third such press conference to call for ethics reform in as many weeks.
At a different press conference two weeks ago, House Bill 361 was discussed, which dramatically increases the fines legislators face for engaging in numerous restricted activities, to be released from the House Rules Committee.
Additionally, House Joint Resolution 87 was filed to create the State Ethics Task Force two weeks ago in the lead up to the Fall Veto Session. Despite the bipartisan nature of this legislation, it was not called for a vote during veto session.
In response to the federal corruption probe that has widened further since two weeks ago, House Republicans upped the ante with a new package of legislation:
- House Bill 3954 that will revise statements of economic interests to include more details similar to the information required for judicial statements of economic interest. This forces full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and provides greater transparency for members of the General Assembly;
- HJRCA 36 will require a special election to fill General Assembly vacancies through the same laws governing party primaries. This will prevent political powerbrokers from picking their preferred candidates for vacancies;
- House Resolution 588 will allow a Chief Co-Sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it or an up or down vote in a substantive committee;
- House Bill 3947 would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Currently, members of the Illinois General Assembly – state representatives and state senators – are prohibited from lobbying the State of Illinois, but are not prohibited from lobbying local government units, such as a counties or municipalities;
- House Bill 3955 will create mandatory and publicly available documentation of General Assembly communications with any state agency regarding contracts.
Ignoring Republican reforms, Democrats pass watered-down ethics legislation. On the final day of the fall Veto Session, the Illinois General Assembly passed several ethics reform measures that do not fully address concerns over recent federal indictments and ongoing political corruption in Illinois.
The Democrat majority filed legislation in the middle of the night in a last-minute attempt to provide cover for their members, while refusing to take any votes on the House Republicans’ ethics reform package. The legislation passed Thursday should only be considered a small first step on the path to ending political corruption in our state. While most House Republicans reluctantly supported these watered-down bills, much more work needs to be done to end the culture of corruption.
House Joint Resolution 93 creates the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to review Illinois’ ethics laws and lobbyist registration requirements. The Democrats’ resolution postpones the final report of the Commission until March 31, 2020, after the Primary Election.
Senate Bill 1639 requires lobbyists to disclose if they are elected officials, if they lobby a local government that requires registration, and requires the disclosure of who a sub-registrant lobbyist is hired to help lobby. Nothing in SB 1639 bans legislators from being paid to lobby local governments.
As House Democrats moved to adjourn the fall Veto Session, House Republicans demanded a roll call vote on the adjournment motion, voting against adjournment because our work on ethics reform is far from over. House Republicans called on Speaker Madigan to bring the House back into special session to fully debate and vote on our ethics reform package, which contains much stronger reforms to curtail political corruption in Illinois. After recent revelations of federal investigations and indictments against current and recently resigned legislators, we must do more to restore the public’s trust in our government.
Second week of fall veto session in Springfield; calendar posted for 2020. The General Assembly met last week for the final three days of veto session. This marked the final scheduled legislative action of calendar year 2019. The House and Senate are scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday, January 28. There will be perfunctory sessions held prior to that time for the members to file new bills for consideration in the 2020 spring session. The 2020 spring session House calendar lists the session days for the months of January through May.
Push for sports betting. While Illinois lawmakers enacted the Sports Betting Act in June 2019, key rules to put sports betting in place have not yet been adopted by the Illinois Gaming Board. At the Board’s November 7 meeting, administrator Marcus Fruchter stated that based upon his staff’s current timeline, he expected that rules would be released prior to the Board’s December 2019 monthly meeting.
Release of rules by the Gaming Board will lead to two key future events. Firstly, the rules release will enable firms to apply for permission and commence operations of sports-betting wire rooms. Sports betting in purpose-fitted locations is a familiar sight on the Las Vegas Strip. It is very similar to the technology used to pay off horse racing bets at racetracks and at off-track-betting parlors around the United States. Sports betting wire rooms are already operating in the neighboring states of Indiana and Iowa, and Indiana wire rooms are advertising for bettors throughout the Chicago area.
Secondly, the release by the Illinois Gaming Board of administrative rules to implement the Sports Wagering Act, enacted in spring 2019, will start up an eighteen-month countdown to move toward a second stage in Illinois sports betting. After eighteen months of Illinois location-based sports betting operations, Illinois will award supplementary licenses to allow sports wagers to be placed online. This mobile sports-betting technology is already used successfully by two firms, DraftKings and FanDuel, to sell sports betting services in New Jersey.
Illinois Gaming Board sports betting rules will be scrutinized by a panel of the General Assembly, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which has legislative responsibility over administrative rules promulgated by State agencies.
House approves legislation to cap some insulin copays. Many Illinois residents have diabetes, and many diabetics must take insulin to survive. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are influenced by a wide variety of variables when they set prices for medicines, with one of these factors being the fact that a medication is necessary for a person with a chronic illness to live a healthy life. Some people with diabetes are reporting that they must pay high prices, and must make high co-payments, for essential insulin supplies.
House legislation, enacted as House Amendment #1 to SB 667, deals with prescription insulin drugs that are covered by insurance programs regulated by the State of Illinois. The legislation imposes a co-pay cap of $100 per month on this insulin. Some health programs are covered by federal law, and are not regulated by the State and are not affected by this new law. SB 667, as amended, was approved in the House on Wednesday, November 13 by a vote of 100-13-1. A Senate concurrence vote of 43-1-0 sent this measure to the Governor for final action.
Department of Children and Family Services reported for poor treatment of children. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has the legal responsibility of looking after and helping children under threat, including foster children. However, many children under threat have suffered harm and in a few cases, children under DCFS “supervision” have died or been killed. Other children are still alive but have suffered ill-treatment. In a report published on Wednesday, November 13, the Chicago Tribune detailed cases where foster children were transported in handcuffs and leg shackles. The story has been corroborated by other news reports.
House Republican members have joined the DCFS inspector general in the comprehensive investigation of deadly mistakes and wrongdoing at DCFS. In a wide variety of cases involving numerous children and young people, some of the agency’s personnel have been reported as acting in an unprofessional manner and being out of compliance with child welfare best practices. The Task Force on Strengthening Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families is looking into DCFS personnel policies and practices in an effort to create adequate supervision of the child welfare agency with heavy responsibilities.