Reform: How your elected officials did

 
 
Published: 6/4/2009 12:01 AM | Updated: 6/4/2009 8:27 AM

We've said we'll watch to see if real advances were achieved in fixing our poisonous state politics.

Some progress was made, but our fears also were realized: Some key reforms were abandoned because they threatened leaders' political power.

It remains our duty to keep pushing for the change we must have. Here is a status report on cleansing corruption. Don't stop fighting for it.

Open government

Recommendations: Strengthen open records laws used by the public to access documents, including: Create public access counselor to intervene on public's behalf; provide for criminal charges for violations; reduce exemptions; limit copying charges to 15 cents per page after 50 pages; make the General Assembly fall under Open Meetings Act; extend time to file lawsuits; reduce reasons to hide government action from public.

Status: Legislation approved includes most recommendations, but doesn't strengthen open meetings laws. Awaits governor's signature.

Our view: Great progress was made. This is a bill that should become law. We all must keep demanding the provisions also apply to the legislature.

Stronger prosecutors

Recommendations: Allow county prosecutors and the Illinois Attorney General to use wiretaps in corruption probes like federal authorities; strengthen state conspiracy laws; make it a crime to lie to law enforcement; create state extortion law; strengthen theft laws to protect taxpayer funds; make corruption crimes non-probational; allow state grand jury investigations of corruption; create state police corruption unit.

Status: Dead. Lawmakers concerned about prosecutors using power to attack foes.

Our view: We share concerns about giving elected prosecutors' wiretap power.

Empowering probers

Recommendations: Make inspector general reports public; allow probes to start from anonymous tips; broaden oversight to include hiring; protect inspectors general funding.

Status: Awaiting governor's signature. Approved legislation has more restrictions on disclosure of inspector general reports than recommended, but allows more probes.

Our view: Gov. Pat Quinn should sign this.

Campaign funding

Recommendations: Require first-ever donation limits of $2,400 from individuals and $5,000 from businesses, and unions per election and $30,000 transfers from political committees. Force real-time disclosure; ban donations from lobbyists, trusts, contractors and regulated firms; disclose "bundlers;" initiate pilot public financing for judges; boost state enforcement and penalties; and restrict outside group funding of campaigns.

Status: Revamped final legislation includes $5,000 limit for individuals and $10,000 for businesses, unions and PACs per year, plus $90,000 per year transfers from political leaders. Critics denounced $90,000 political party transfers per year as weak. No real-time reporting, but reports required more often. No restrictions on lobbyists, contractors, etc. Creates judicial public finance pilot. Awaits governor's signature. Law takes effect in 2011, after the next elections.

Our view: A failed ploy to allow officials to claim they passed limits. Quinn should veto and demand real limits. Legislators who voted "no" or "present" were taking a good stand in this case.

Contract overhaul

Recommendations: Insulate procurement officials from political pressure; increase types of contracts open to bidding; establish outside contract monitor; make the names of subcontractors public; disclose investors and put all contracts online.

Status: Legislation awaiting governor's signature includes most of these.

Our view: Real progress here that should become law and deserves our applause.

Fair districting

Recommendations: Remove "winner take all" powers in district mapping that give power to one political party. Use a more objective computer program to draw districts.

Status: No action. Lawmakers plan summer hearings. Map drawing won't take place until after 2010 census.

Our view: Hearings aren't needed. The past partisan process must end.

Limiting leaders

Recommendations: Limit tenure of legislative leaders to 10 years; require hearings on budgets; force leaders to certify a balanced budget and require votes on all legislation that receives 16 House or eight Senate sponsors.

Status: Dead.

Our view: Elected officials' refusal to adopt any of these ideas should rally us all. We must demand these changes.

Patronage

Recommendations: Tighten policies for positions not protected from political hiring; appoint an independent hiring monitor; set laws to ban political hiring; introduce open primaries; add protection for whistle-blowers; and strengthen laws against "revolving door" state employees working for contractors.

Status: Legislation awaits the governor's signature to strengthen "revolving door" laws. No other action.

Our view: We must demand better than this initial attempt to clean up hiring.

Term limits

Recommendations: Some voters called for term limits for elected officials.

Status: Dead.

Our view: We do not support term limits generally, but we do support limiting legislative leaders' terms to trim their near-absolute power.

Recall

Recommendations: Quinn and some voters want to allow the recall of statewide officials and lawmakers.

Status: A constitutional amendment applying only to the governor passed the House. No Senate vote yet.

Our view: We need recall, for all, not just governors.

Political hires

Recommendations: Remove political appointees hired by the previous two governors.

Status: Approved by the House, awaiting Senate vote.

Our view: A good idea, but we wonder whether Quinn could review hires quickly enough so that government service would not be hindered.

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