Thursday, May 07, 2009

Prepare for ethics: All or nothing?

By Hilary Russell and Jamey Dunn, with Bethany Jaeger contributing
The Illinois Senate Democrats will present their ideas about reforming state government May 18, giving them 15 days to before the legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the summer.

Members of the Illinois Reform Commission, created by Gov. Pat Quinn to recommend ways to restructure state government, today joined Senate President John Cullerton to talk about the future of the commission’s recommendations for reform. Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, chairman of the commission, appeared with commissioners Sheila Simon and Brad McMillan at the Statehouse.

Cullerton and Collins made it clear that controversial topics will go through the typical legislative process.

Despite providing no details, Cullerton and Collins agreed that some of the topics would be easier to pass than others. But Cullerton said he remained optimistic that both parties could agree on the reform proposals that advanced.

See the commission’s recommendations here.

Two items that are expected to advance include stricter rules about the way the state contracts with businesses to provide services, as well as increasing transparency to the process of investigating corruption allegations within state government. Both, however, focus on the executive branch, not the legislative branch.

Some recommendations that would affect the legislature, including subjecting legislative leaders to term limits and publicly financing some elections, are likely to be unpopular among lawmakers.

Bills that are not agreed upon will still get a public hearing, according to Cullerton. “There are more areas of agreement than disagreement,” he said, indicating that the four leaders could come to a compromise without dredging the commission’s proposals though the mud.

“A lot will be determined as we go forward in the next few weeks, as this body has a lot of work to do that isn’t just ethics reform,” Collins said. “But we think ethics reform should be high on the list.”

Lawmakers now wait for the commission’s proposals to be drafted into bills. Cullerton added that legislators expect to begin receiving bills from the governor’s office next week when deliberations can start in earnest.

All or nothing?
By Jamey Dunn
Collins has pushed for adoption of all the commission’s recommendations. He said that the plan is comprehensive, and removing parts of it could create loopholes that would allow corruption to slip through. He indicated today that he’s backing off from that to get as many reforms from the report passed as possible.

Collins said he and his fellow commissioners have met with legislators whenever asked , and while they are willing to compromise, there are certain aspects of the report he is not willing to abandon.

“Some have said we’re not willing to negotiate or compromise. That’s ridiculous. But, we aren’t willing to compromise on core values.”

Collins fired back at the media for characterizing the commission as overly idealistic and inflexible. “We are practical people that want results. We don’t want a document that we can hang over someone’s head. We’re not about that, and anybody who suggests otherwise doesn’t know us.”

House Minority Leader Tom Cross agrees that an all-or-nothing approach is unrealistic. “I like most everything on there, but there’s always going to be some things you don’t care for. Nothing in the world [or] in life is all or nothing.”

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said she is ready to compromise, “as long as the reforms are significant and not just window dressing.”

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