Republican-backed ethics reform would make legislators wait before becoming lobbyists, give more investigatory power to prosecutors

Three McHenry County state senators are among the 18 Republicans backing the legislation

Three McHenry County state senators are among 18 Republicans backing legislation that would allow Illinois Attorney General to use statewide grand juries to investigate cases of public corruption among numerous other changes.

State Sens. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, and Donald DeWitte, R-St. Charles, are two of the four chief co-sponsors the legislation, known as Senate Bill 1350, which was amended to its current form Monday. Also sponsoring the legislation is state Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry.

“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,” DeWitte said in a news release. “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.”

DeWitte’s office described the bill in the release as “comprehensive ethics reform legislation that seeks to hold politicians more accountable and give prosecutors more powers to investigate public corruption.”

Current Illinois law allows the statewide grand jury to be used only in cases of drugs, gangs, and child pornography, but the bill if passed would empower the Illinois Attorney General to use a statewide grand jury to investigate cases of public corruption.

The legislation would also amend the state’s organized crime law to allow state’s attorneys the authority to use wiretaps to investigate crimes of public corruption, something the county-level prosecutors cannot currently do, according to the release.

It would also give the Illinois Legislative Inspector General greater autonomy to independently investigate allegations of political wrong-doing, by giving it the ability to investigate and issue subpoenas without prior consent of the Legislative Ethics Commission, a panel comprised of sitting lawmakers.

“The fact that our (Legislative Inspector General) cannot investigate a legislator’s conduct unless other legislators say it’s OK is laughable,” DeWitte said in the release. “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.”

The bill would also ban legislators from lobbying other branches of state government or units of local government for compensation and require legislators wait at least one full year, or until the end of the current General Assembly, whichever is longer, before becoming a lobbyist.

DeWitte represents the 33rd Senate District, which stretches from Lakewood and Lake in the Hills south through Hampshire, Gilberts, Pingree Grove and West Dundee down around Elgin through the west side of St. Charles to the northern end of Batavia. McConchie, who is also the Republican minority leader, represents the 26th Senate District includes parts or all of Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Island Lake, Lake Zurich, Hawthorn Woods, Libertyville, Kildeer, Long Grove, Barrington Hills and South Barrington.

Wilcox represents the 32nd District, which includes the western and northern halves of McHenry County as well as part of western Lake County.