Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Revamped employee ethics rules enacted

By Bethany Jaeger
In a “week of reform,” Gov. Pat Quinn today signed Senate Bill 54, which addresses state employee ethics rules and lobbyist registration requirements. The governor enacted a revamped Freedom of Information Act yesterday.

Here’s the breakdown of SB 54 and some background, including why provisions to strengthen the role of inspectors general were needed (it relates to when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich formed the inspectors general but did not give them the ability to shine a light on ethics violations).

Employee ethics:
  • Reports written by inspectors general will be made public record if the inspectors find wrongdoing and either suspend or terminate a state employee. Some information could still be blacked out, or redacted, if its release would harm an ongoing investigation.
  • However, routine reports about the status of investigations will not be subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Inspectors will be able to open investigations based on anonymous tips.
  • The law clarifies the process for investigating potential ethics violations.
  • The Executive Ethics Commission will house new procurement officers to oversee the way state agencies buy goods and services.
  • Employees and candidates cannot promise compensated time off, benefits, raises, job promotions, favorable regulatory treatment or a state contract in exchange for a campaign contribution.
  • State employees have to take an online ethics exam within 30 days of starting their new jobs, rather than within six months, as currently required.

Updated revolving door ban:
  • Policymakers will not be able to resign and within a year accept a position with private companies that received significant state contracts from the agencies where the officials worked.
  • The state is expected to have an easier time tracking which employees will be subject to the revolving door ban because the legislation also requires agencies and executive offices to list those employees. Those lists will be filed with the agencies' respective ethics commissions.

New lobbying rules:
  • People who lobby state boards, commissions or retirement boards now will have to register as lobbyists.
  • All lobbyists will have to abide by stricter disclosure requirements, including listing all expenditures related to lobbying activities, their clients and the subject matter of lobbying activities. The reports will have to be filed with the secretary of state on a weekly basis when the legislature is in session and monthly during the off-season.
  • Many will have to pay a higher $1,000 fee, which is the way the state is expected to pay for more inspectors to monitor lobbying activities. House Speaker Michael Madigan previously said he would consider lowering the fee for smaller nonprofit groups in the future.

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