SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House failed to muster the votes on Aug. 31 to accept Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s amendatory veto to an ethics bill that passed nearly unanimously earlier this year.
Pritzker issued the amendatory veto of Senate Bill 539 on Aug. 27, saying he supports the legislation but would like to see a minor change in language dealing with the office of executive inspector general.
The Senate approved that technical change unanimously, but the trouble for the governor came in the House as Republicans removed their support for the bill and not enough Democrats remained in the chamber just before 10 p.m. Tuesday to reach the three-fifths vote needed for it to pass.
Local Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th), who represents Hyde Park east of Ellis Avenue and southern Kenwood east of Woodlawn Avenue, was among the 16 representatives, 14 of them Democrats, who missed the vote without an excused absence. Twelve more votes were needed to pass the amendatory veto.
Tarver, over text, said he expects to return to Springfield by Sept. 15 to vote again on the bill and other issues; an energy regulatory overhaul bill pushed by the Pritzker administration remains outstanding. The House has a 15-day constitutional window from the one-day Aug. 31 session in which such an action on the ethics bill would be allowed.
Rep. Lamont Robinson (D-5th), whose district covers eastern Bronzeville, Washington Park, West Woodlawn and southwestern South Shore, also missed the ethics vote without an excused absence because, he said in an interview, he was momentarily off the House floor at the time of the vote. He said he would have supported it, noted he voted for it at the end of the legislature’s spring session and also expects to come back this month to try again.
"My hope is that we get back, up and running, and it passes," Robinson said. "It does make sense, and why it did not move is another conversation. But hopefully with energy an this bill, next week we'll be able to get it done."
Jacklyn Driscoll, spokesperson for House Speaker Chris Welch (D-7th) said over email that staff has been reaching out to members to gauge a possible return before that date.
SB 539 initially came up for vote after 1 a.m. June 1, with House Republicans stating a number of concerns and calling it “watered down” before it passed the House 113-5 and the Senate 59-0. Tarver as well as Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) and Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26th) supported it then; the latter two also voted in favor of the amendatory veto.
Among other things, the bill would have prohibited legislators and constitutional officers from engaging in “compensated lobbying” of a municipality, county or township “on behalf of any lobbyist or lobbying entity that is registered to lobby” the General Assembly or the executive branch. The same would have applied to elected and appointed executive or legislative officials of county, municipal or township governments.
The bill also would have made a number of changes to financial disclosure requirements and limited the ability of lawmakers to leave office and immediately go to work as lobbyists.
Southwest suburban Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) said she wasn't expecting Republicans to pull support for her ethics bill.
“It was a longer than anticipated day, and I think people on both sides of the aisle had some commitments that they needed to get home for,” she said of the Aug. 31 session.
Burke said she was unsure of when the House would return, although other Democrats in that chamber have indicated they tentatively plan to return sometime soon to consider the energy bill that has repeatedly stalled. If they return by Sept. 12, a date representing a major deadline for the state’s nuclear power industry, they could take it up at that time.
But Republicans in the House now say the acceptance vote’s failure shows lawmakers from both parties have an appetite for stricter ethics reform.
The lack of support from the GOP this time around was spurred in large part by the resignation and public comments of Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope, who in July called the position a “paper tiger” while declaring her intent to resign as soon as a replacement is found or by Dec. 15 at the latest.
The bill would have given the legislative inspector general independent authority to launch investigations, but only after a formal complaint is filed. It would have restricted those investigations to matters that arise out of government service or employment, not to outside employment.
Pope specifically said that language would tie her hands, and she cited that as a reason for her resignation.
Three downstate Republican representatives sent Burke a letter late in August calling for a restart of ethics negotiations for a more forceful bill, with one author saying the House GOP wants ongoing public hearings and a process that doesn’t end in the late-night introduction of a privately negotiated bill at the end of a long legislative session, as was the case for SB 539.
In the letter, the Republicans called for “expanding the jurisdiction of the LIG, allowing subpoena power for the office of the LIG, pairing the jurisdiction of the LIG and Legislative Ethics Commission, and increasing the vote threshold to a supermajority to block the publication of a report.”
Currently, Bourne said, the eight-member commission needs only four votes to block publication of a report, meaning one party alone could do so.
Burke said she’s ready to pass SB 539 and continue to work on further changes to ethics laws.
“This is a standing committee, the ethics committee,” she said. “So you know, we're going to have more bills and ideas that people put forward. We've been clear about that since the beginning. … I think this bill is an excellent bill. And it’s a good start. But it's not the end of the conversation. So let's get this done and then continue working.”
Gettinger reported from Chicago. Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.