Above / Illinois State Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) held a press conference Nov. 7, 2017, regarding legislation he has just introduced to reform the legislative ethics review process for reports of sexual harassment and all alleged ethics violations.
Springfield… Recent reports that incidents of sexual harassment in the Illinois General Assembly are not promptly investigated, or are not even reported due to fear of retaliation, are proof that the legislative ethics review system is in need of a complete overhaul, stressed State Representative Grant Wehrli. Wehrli, along with Representatives Keith Wheeler and Mark Batinick, introduced a series of reforms that will give deference to complainants in such cases, and ensure their claims receive a fair and unbiased review.
“I’m very pleased that after more than a year we finally have a Legislative Inspector General in place this week. I’m confident Julie Porter will do an excellent job. But there’s more we must do to correct the fundamental flaws in the process that for years have made harassment victims hesitant to come forward because they felt the system was stacked against them. It’s that bias that we’re targeting with these reforms,” said Rep. Wehrli (R-Naperville).
“Sexual harassment in any form is wholly unacceptable. Our State Capitol and all government offices must be places where legislators, staff, lobbyists and visitors treat each other with the utmost dignity and respect. Our legislation will help to make this expectation a reality by strengthening the legislative ethics review process,” said Rep. Wheeler (R-Oswego). “Victims of sexual harassment should always be made to feel safe in coming forward; and every perpetrator should be held accountable to their organization, caucus, or the proper authorities.”
“I am glad that after so long the office of Legislative Inspector General has finally been filled,” said Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield). “In order for Illinoisans to have any confidence in their state government this important office must be able to do its job effectively. The past few weeks’ news about sexual harassment in state government has made it clear that more reforms are needed, and our legislation is a step in the right direction.”
House Bill 4151
House Bill 4151 incorporates much needed changes recommended in a 2014 letter to legislators by Illinois’ last Legislative Inspector General Tom Homer that includes the enactment of patronage reform measures, the establishment of transparency in investigations, and the enactment of conflict of interest prohibitions.
“There has been broad agreement on the need for these reforms for three years, but they have yet to be enacted. We need to move forward,” Representative Wehrli said.
Further, the legislation completely restructures how legislators serving on the Legislative Ethics Commission are chosen. Instead of the current method of requiring the four caucus leaders to each choose two members to serve, under HB4151 two members from each caucus would be selected by random draw, similar to a jury selection. Members selected would serve on the Commission for 60 days. An “alternate” from each caucus would also be chosen to step in should a serving member be unable to fulfill their duties. No member would be allowed to serve consecutive terms.
“Random selection of members every 60 days will go a long way to eliminating outside influence and reassuring those with complaints that they will receive a fair and unbiased review,” Representative Wehrli said.
The proposed reforms will also help clarify the reporting process by renaming the Legislative Inspector General as the Legislative Ethics Review Officer, and providing additional clarification on the role and responsibilities of the office. It also requires that departments post reporting information and guidelines in their offices alongside other required notices.
“This simply ensures anyone with a complaint is clear on who they can go to for help and how they can go about it,” Representative Wehrli said. “We’re also requiring that the Legislative Review Officer have federal experience, not simply state experience, to again avoid even the appearance of cronyism.”
Representative Wehrli continued, “The recent sexual harassment stories coming from the Capitol have shone a bright light on how horribly inadequate our system for investigating serious ethics complaints really is. The reforms my colleagues and I are offering today will help us finally put an end to the cronyism that has long protected and enabled bad behavior in state government.”
State Representative David S. Olsen (R-Downers Grove) responds
State Representative David S. Olsen supported and voted in favor of several legislative initiatives on Tuesday that aim to end the culture of sexual harassment in Springfield.
Olsen was a leading Republican on HJR 83 <http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.aspDocNum=83&GAID=14&GA=100&DocTypeID=HJR&LegID=108123&SessionID=91>, a measure that condemns the misogynistic culture that exists in Springfield and seeks full cooperation by all lawmakers, staff and lobbyists to adhere to a higher standard of behavior.
“House Joint Resolution 83 is a strongly-worded resolution that urges everyone involved with State government to commit to working to change the culture in Springfield that breeds sexual harassment,” said Olsen. “No woman or man should ever have to feel threatened or harassed in their workplace, and we need to take whatever steps are necessary so that people understand that they never have to accept unwanted advances in exchange for success on the job.”
In addition to co-sponsoring HJR 83, Olsen voted in favor of the following additional bills that address the sexual harassment problem in and around the Capitol:
· SB 402<http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=402&GAID=14&GA=100&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=100343&SessionID=91>: Requires annual sexual harassment training for all Constitutional officers, lawmakers, state employees and registered lobbyists
· HB 137<http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=137&GAID=14&GA=100&DocTypeID=HB&LegID=99087&SessionID=91>, Senate Amendment #1: Temporarily lifts the 12-month window during which allegations of misconduct may be investigated, to allows the Legislative Inspector General (LIG) to hear the 27 complaints that were filed between December 1, 2014 and November 3, 2017 when the LIG post was vacant
· HR 687<http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=687&GAID=14&GA=100&DocTypeID=HR&LegID=108262&SessionID=91>: Creates a Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment
“I am pleased to see members of the General Assembly moving forward on a bipartisan basis to address this very serious problem,” Olsen said. “We must end this inappropriate culture and treat one another with full respect and as equals.”
State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) responds
In response to the widespread incidents of women being sexual harassed and discriminated against in Springfield, state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit is supporting a package of legislative measures to crackdown on sexual harassment, ensure offenders are brought to justice, and that steps are taken to continue combating workplace discrimination and harassment in both the public and private sector.
“I stand with the countless victims of sexual harassment who have been assaulted while simply trying to do their jobs,” Kifowit said. “No woman should ever be intimidated and mistreated in this manner and we have a duty to eliminate this sickening behavior from our Capitol and every workplace.”
Kifowit voted to pass Senate Bill 402, which will require every legislator, staffer and lobbyist to complete an annual sexual harassment training program. Lobbyist businesses will also be required to create and enforce their own internal sexual harassment policies, similar to what legislative staffs are already required to have in place. Additionally, Kifowit was the Chief Co-Sponsor on House Joint Resolution 83, which calls on individuals involved in Illinois politics to reject harassment and work to put an end to it.
Acting to empower the new legislative inspector general who will be charged with investigating allegations of harassment and other violations, Kifowit stood with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass House Bill 137, allows complete investigations of all complaints pending with the inspector general’s office, despite a one-year statute of limitations.
Kifowit is also supporting efforts to create a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of the legal and social consequences of sexual discrimination and harassment in both the public and private sector and make recommendations to the General Assembly to combat this behavior.
“Sexual harassment and discrimination is not an issue we will solve with legislation alone, it will take a changing of the culture,” Kifowit said. “But I hope these measures will give women in Springfield and across Illinois the courage to continue coming forward and encourage others to stand up against violence against women.”