Law increasing independence in legislative sexual harassment investigations is enacted

Gov. Rauner signed into law a measure that will increase independence in the investigation of legislative ethics complaints in Illinois. This new law, which makes significant reforms to the Legislative Ethics Commission and Office of the Legislative Inspector General, changes the process of handling ethics complaints to provide those who would come forward greater confidence that their concerns will be reviewed in a timely, transparent manner.

“This bill is a victory for the heroic women who have stepped forward to take on the culture of fear, abuse and retaliation that permeates too much of state government. Illinoisans should applaud this improvement and champion the women who stood up to Illinois’ political power structure in order to make this change happen.” Rauner said in his signing message. “Through their courageous words and actions, they have declared that the culture in Springfield must change.”

Under HB 138 the Legislative Inspector General (LIG) will be allowed to conduct independent investigations into sexual harassment allegations without obtaining consent from the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC). The new law will create an independent search committee to recommend candidates for LIG, establish new restrictions on political parties and lobbying firms, and bring greater transparency to the management of ethics complaints. It also makes it possible to hire a full-time LIG, instead of the current part-time position, to more quickly investigate ethics complaints.

“Those who have been subject to sexual harassment can now have greater confidence that the investigatory process will not be controlled by those who are being investigated. The era of self-dealing in Springfield must come to an end,” Rauner said. “Victims should not live in fear that the truth they tell will bring more pain into their lives. That’s why I’m signing this bill – because it will help protect Illinois’ daughters, mothers, wives and others who dedicate their lives to improving state government.”

While this legislation is a step in the right direction, Rauner identified two critical flaws that should be addressed quickly by the legislature. First, the LIG should not need the legislature’s approval to investigate any type of ethics allegations.

“The same independent investigation that is needed for claims of sexual harassment is also needed for allegations such as bribery, fraud, prohibited political activity, and other crimes and ethics violations,” Rauner said, noting that the legislature has the authority to make those changes.

Rauner also noted that the LEC, which oversees investigations of claims against legislators and legislative staff, should not be composed of legislators. Outside individuals, not connected to the legislative process, should be tasked with oversight of the General Assembly.

“Illinois has one of the nation’s highest rates of public corruption, and Illinoisans have the lowest confidence in their government compared to citizens of every other state. An independent Legislative Inspector General and independent commission are needed to help restore Illinoisans’ confidence in the legislature,” Rauner said.

While work remains to be done, Rauner commended the work of the members of the General Assembly who made this step forward possible, and urged them to continue pushing for reform.

“I have to applaud the Illinois Senate Women’s Caucus who really championed this issue and have made this advancement possible,” Rauner said. “I hope they will stay vigilant, and remain engaged as we continue to work together to take on this toxic culture of corruption in Springfield.”

The new law also makes various changes aimed at increasing transparency including requiring enhanced reporting of matters brought to the LEC and the Executive Ethics Commission, procedures for LEC members to recuse themselves, and addresses limitations concerning the sharing of information about complaints and the investigative process with complainants. It also allows the Secretary of State Inspector General to enforce rules that apply to lobbyists, providing for suspension or revocation of a lobbyist’s registration for a sexual harassment violation.