Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Legislators: It's time to 'rock the system'

Bethany Carson contributed to this report
Several legislators are asking Gov. Rod Blagojevich to convene a special session specifically for ethics reform. Today, Sen. Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican, led the group in an attempt to persuade the governor to add ethics and campaign finance reform to the list of topics to be addressed during this summer’s ongoing special sessions.

Until Wednesday, the special sessions called by the governor have focused on the much-delayed state budget. But Blagojevich Tuesday proclaimed today’s special session to focus on gun control, leading Radogno and Chicago Democratic Rep. John Fritchey to urge the governor to take the same steps to end pay-to-play politics.

"It may not be time to take up contentious legislation, but I'll tell you what, Governor, if you're serious about taking care of unfinished business, I've got a suggestion for you," Fritchey said Tuesday on the House floor. "There's a piece of legislation that's not contentious. There's a piece of legislation that was supported by every member of this chamber, the 117 of us that were there. That was House Bill 1, the bill that will end pay to play."

House Bill 1 is just one of three ethics reform measures stuck in the Senate. It would set a $25,000 limit on how much contractors could give to state officials who received state contracts.

In yesterday's budget talks at the governor’s mansion, Radogno said lawmakers confronted Blagojevich about why the legislature hasn't acted on ethics legislation in any of the special sessions. According to Radogno, the governor said they were going to get to it, that nothing comprehensive was out there and that he called HB 1 "inadequate." Radogno said, "This, mind you, from the same man that told us two years ago that he was going to ‘rock the system,’ He has done absolutely, positively nothing with regards to ethics reform in this state."

Blagojevich did enact an ethics package during his first term that requires all state employees to take an annual ethics exam and that created ethics inspectors general for each executive office.

Radogno went on to say that there are two other measures being held in the Senate rules committee that are comprehensive ethics reform bills. The House also has approved both HB 3 and SB 1305, which have yet to be called for action on the Senate floor.

"We can stay in session for more than 10 minutes to work on this very important topic, and we need to do that," Radogno said.

During the special sessions, the governor has continued to advocate for his proposals to increase education funding and to provide health care for the estimated 1.4 million uninsured Illinoisans. He also wants gun control legislation. However, Fritchey says the most dominant issues in our state and in the headlines hasn't been education funding or gun legislation. "Its scandals and allegations and indictments," he said Tuesday on the floor. "Tell people that when you said you wanted to rock the system, you meant it."

The governor continues to keep his lips sealed about the subpoenas received by his office from federal investigators. As of this posting, the governor's office hasn't responded to our question whether he plans to call a special session for ethics reform.

The governor's call to spend an entire special session on gun control (the eighth special session) backfired Wednesday. One sponsor of the gun control legislation, Chicago Democratic Rep. Harry Osterman, repeated what he's been saying for the past few days: He will not call the legislation for a vote until it has enough votes for approval. That will take 71, to which Osterman said, "This bill will not get 71 votes ... It would be irresponsible of me the sponsor of this legislation to call this bill for a vote, knowing that it's going to fail."

In fact, if the bill is amended to need only 60 votes, as Osterman intends to do, the effective date will be June of 2008. "June of 2008," he repeated on the House floor. "So if passed with 60 votes, it won't take effect until June. So there is no need to rush a vote today or tomorrow."

Osterman will have to work to gain the votes on the controversial measure, but, he said, "Today is not that day. We need to be focused on the budget of our state. That is our collective priority."

House members clapped as he closed his comments.

The governor responded with a letter to House Speaker Michael Madigan that said, "I urge you to convene a Committee of the Whole to limit access to deadly large capacity ammunition clips. Giving the full House an opportunity to hear from law enforcement officials, anti-gun violence advocates and victims’ families will help us move closer to consensus on this important issue." He said he looked forward to working with the sponsor and the speaker's office to get the bill approved.

There was no leaders' meeting today.

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