Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Recall returns, other reforms coming

By Bethany Jaeger and Jamey Dunn
The legislature continues to advance measures that would try to prevent the alleged wrongdoing by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich from going on long enough for a federal indictment to intervene.

Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat and longtime Blagojevich critic, revived his effort to change the state Constitution so voters could “recall” elected officials. The effort failed last year. This time, however, he’s calling for a constitutional amendment that would only focus on allowing voters to recall the governor, not other statewide officeholders or legislators.

Franks called it a first step and said that recall should only be used in extreme situations, describing recall authority as a “nuclear option” to remove corrupt or inept officials. He pointed to 18 other states that have some version of a recall provision, but it’s only been used twice in recent history, the most recent in California in 2003.

The bill is scheduled for a committee hearing tomorrow morning. We’ll have more then.

Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat, also is sponsoring a measure to increase transparency in the way the governor appoints people to boards and commissions. While Gov. Pat Quinn’s office already published a Web site listing all appointments, Garrett’s bill, SB 1602, would aim to increase transparency, prevent conflicts of interest and “ensure the process isn’t dominated by political insiders.” She referred to several Blagojevich appointments involved in the ongoing federal investigation of using public office for private gain.

Both Franks and Garrett said the legislature continues to advance reform measures not addressed by Quinn’s Illinois Reform Commission. Franks said the panel did good work, “but by no means is it all inclusive or the only reasonable voice.”

The commission did not make a specific recommendation, for instance, about whether to let voters recall elected officials. Commissioner Patrick Collins previously said the group only gave recommendations that received unanimous support, and recall was not unanimous but deserved additional consideration.

One area the commission did make specific recommendations was campaign finance. While last week’s attempt to debate so-called contribution limits soured, another attempt could be made as soon as tomorrow. Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, went as far to say he expects some form of contribution caps to pass both chambers tomorrow. The process is expected to start with a Senate committee hearing in the afternoon.

Harmon has been negotiating a compromise with lawmakers and the Illinois Reform Commission. He said there is “if not broad agreement, at least broad acceptance” of $5,000 contribution limits for individual donors. That’s a more lenient limit than the $2,400 cap recommended by the commission. But the bigger sticking point, according to Harmon, is whether to limit the amount statewide political parties can donate to their candidates.

But a statement from House Speaker Michael Madigan today made it seem as though that issue may be close to a resolution among Democrats.

A public TV program called Illinois Lawmakers reported that Madigan said he and Senate President John Cullerton have come to an agreement on capping the amount of money political parties can transfer to candidates’ campaign committees. Both leaders have withheld their support of the idea in the past.

“We are moving in the right direction.” Madigan said. “There should be caps on contributions. There should be caps on transfers between committees.”

FOIA rewrite advances
One area where lawmakers did strike a compromise with competing versions is strengthening the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.

The Illinois Press Association and the Illinois Attorney General expressed disappointment with a watered down version last week, but both enthusiastically supported the version that won House approval today. “This bill did not have everything we wanted, but we were very happy with this bill,” said David Porter, spokesman for the Illinois Press Association.

Senate Bill 189 would increase the standard for public bodies to proving a requested document is exempt from the law. It also would shorten the time public bodies would have to respond to requests from seven business days to five.

One major change is that a certified “public access counselor” would have authority to review and determine whether documents should have been released under the FOIA, and he or she would be able to subpoena documents. The counselor could go as far as issuing binding opinions to resolve disputes and sue to enforce those opinions.

We’ll have much more in the next few days.

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