Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hell freezing over?

By Patrick O’Brien
An ethics reform package aimed at cleaning up state contracting practices, including alleged practices under the spotlight of a federal corruption trial of Tony Rezko, could make its way through the General Assembly very soon.

The so-called pay-to-play measure would ban political contributions to statewide officeholders from any business with more than $50,000 in contracts awarded by that office. The business’ contracts with the state would be canceled if they broke the law. Family members of the contractor also would be banned from donating to the officeholders.

Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, a Crete Democrat, all but dared Gov. Rod Blagojevich to veto or alter the bill in an attempt to “improve” it, as he has with other legislation. “Let him try it,” she said a Statehouse news conference Wednesday. Chicago Democratic Rep. John Fritchey, the House sponsor, vowed that his chamber would override a veto, while the Senate sponsors said they would attempt to get enough votes but couldn’t promise them.

A deal is a long time coming. Lawmakers have debated this version of ethics reform for three years. But the measure gained momentum this year because of the Rezko trial, which includes allegations of exchanging campaign contributions for state contracts and jobs. It's also an election year. “There’s a good chance it may be snowing in hell right now,” Fritchey said of the timing.

Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat and sponsor, said the bill will be heard in a committee next week. He said Senate President Emil Jones, a Chicago Democrat and Blagojevich ally, wanted the bill “improved” even more but that Jones wouldn't stop the measure from advancing to the House. Fritchey said he expected the proposal to move soon.

Working for the weekend?
By Patrick O'Brien
The Illinois House could be in Springfield all weekend to approve a constitutional amendment that would give voters the right to recall elected officials.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said members could be in the Capitol until Sunday as they wait for the Senate to pass its own version of a recall proposal. If the House approves the Senate version by Sunday, there’s a chance it could still land on the November ballot for voters to consider. If the House changed the Senate version, they would miss the May 4th deadline to approve constitutional amendments in time to appear on this year’s ballot. (To be clear: The question on the ballot would ask voters whether the state should change its Constitution to allow a recall, not whether they should recall the current governor)

The Senate proposal would allow voters to recall elected officials, including local politicians and judges. It also would link the lieutenant governor and the governor, which Sen. Rickey Hendon said was because the two officeholders are elected in the general election together (although they're not considered running mates in the primary elections). Under Hendon's proposal, if the governor were recalled, the lieutenant governor would be, too. The House version, sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, is directed only at statewide officeholders, not local officials and judges. That measure is stuck in the Senate.

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