by Patrick O’Brien
The Senate came another step closer to approving a “pay-to-play” ethics package today, but there still are some powerful obstacles, including doubts raised by Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and his allies.
Just before a committee hearing today, Jones proposed a change that proponents say could kill the measure. He withheld the amendment, however, to the relief of supporters.
“I’m much more hopeful than I was an hour ago,” said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, after the committee advanced the proposal to the full Senate. She said Jones’ revision is a “solution without a problem.”
Jones described the amendment as an attempt to improve the bill. It would expand the original proposal to ban state contractors from giving political contributions to all officeholders or candidates. The original plan, conversely, would only limit contractors from donating to the officeholders who grant the contracts.
Canary said the wholesale ban on state contactors’ right to contribute to any candidates in Illinois could be unconstitutional.
Jones and his ally, Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, said there’s a “gaping loophole” in the proposal because it wouldn’t ban political contributions from state contractors to statewide political parties, which often distribute money to members’ campaigns.
Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat sponsoring the original plan, said full disclosure of all political contributions from contractors would make contractors and elected officials far less likely to trade state business for political contributions.
“Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant,” he said.
Hendon told reporters he will vote for the measure when it comes up for consideration in the Senate, which likely is to be next week.
The House and the Senate went home for the weekend and will return Tuesday, May 13. Countdown: The House has 12 session days and the Senate has 11 session days left before the constitutional adjournment of May 31.
by Patrick O’Brien
One of the state’s largest unions is urging the Senate to release a measure that would outlaw mandatory overtime for state workers.
Jessica Becket, a certified nursing assistant as the LaSalle Veterans Home, said she drove her car into a ditch last year, exhausted from a 16-hour shift.
Becket and co-worker Kathy Reno said the average workweek of employees in their department was 55 hours because of staffing shortages and that 12-hour shifts were commonplace.
The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs agreed with the workloads at LaSalle cited by Becket and Reno, saying the unions’ contract allowed for the mandatory overtime.
Both Becket and Reno said as many as seven workers at the home were fired for refusing to work overtime, and Becket herself was suspended.
Sen. John Jones, a Mount Vernon Republican, said he's received complaints from prison employees about the policy and the impact on job performance and wellbeing.
“Somebody is going to get seriously hurt in one of these institutions,” he said.
Henry Bayer, director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said the problem affects about 22,000 workers, mostly in the state’s prisons, mental health facilities and veterans’ homes.
Bayer said a report the union wrote based on state overtime statistics shows Illinois paid $62 million for overtime last year.
Bayer and a bipartisan group of Senators called on Senate President Emil Jones, a Chicago Democrat, to allow the measure to be voted on by the full chamber. The proposal has 34 Senate sponsors.
Watch Illinois Issues magazine in June for more.