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Bill to give complainants rights in inspector general process dies in committee

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Saturday, April 14, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Legislature (56) , Sexual Harassment (96) Currie, Barbara Flynn--State House, 25 , Ives, Jeanne--State House, 42
A state representative says people complaining to inspectors general for Illinois state offices don’t have rights and that’s why her bill is so important, but the measure died in committee Friday.

If someone feels wronged by a lawmaker, or by a state agency, or if an employee of a state operation feels they were harassed or discriminated against by a supervisor or fellow employee, they have the right to file a complaint with an inspector general who oversees their agency, or oversees lawmakers, to investigate. But State Rep. Jeanne Ives said that’s where their rights end.

Ives filed House Bill 4840, a bill to give the complainants certain rights.

“Right now, complainants have no rights,” Ives said. “They don’t even have the right to know that their complaint was in receipt. That’s why we need this legislation. We need it now.”

The measure would have given complainants the right to get an explanation of the process, rules and procedures, to be notified the complaint was received, to be informed of decisions made and actions taken by the IG, to have an attorney, to get a summary, to make an impact statement, to attend a hearing and testify, to receive a report of the findings and recommendations, and to file a complaint with the IG for any alleged violation of the complainant's rights that are laid out in the measure.

House Executive Committee members voted unanimously against the bill, opting instead to take the issue up in a task force.

Ives said that’s where good ideas go to die, or are delayed for years as she said she’s seen in numerous other instances.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said that’s not true.

“We are making great progress and I ... sense that we will come forward with a package of bills that will help people who are victims,” Currie said.

“Our concern [of Ives’ bill] is that they turn confidentiality on its head, they make it possible for a complainant to do, I don’t know exactly what, to an inspector general that doesn't dot every ‘i’ or cross every ‘t’,” Currie said.

Ives said the bill doesn’t toss confidentiality out the window and IGs should be held accountable for not following procedures.

Ives said she will continue to put pressure on lawmakers in the court of public opinion to get the changes in place.

Victims’ rights advocate Denise Rotheimer, who last year publicly accused state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, of abusing his power by sexually harassing her, said the process of filing complaints with an inspector general is flawed.

Without rights in the IG process, complainants should pray for a #MeToo movement and make their cases public, Rotheimer said.

“And going through public scrutiny, and being at risk of becoming further victimized by the process because they really don’t have the backing and support of the elected officials,” Rotheimer said.

Not having explicit rights in the IG process, Rotheimer said, will chill future complainants from coming forward to hold wrongdoers accountable.

Ives said she will continue to put pressure on lawmakers in the court of public opinion to get the changes in place.

Silverstein was found by the temporary legislative inspector general to not have harassed Rotheimer, but the IG did say his conduct was not becoming of a state senator. Silverstein eventually lost his primary election bid last month.

Rotheimer is credited with exposing the problems with the IG process by going public last October. Shortly after her testimony, where she explained she was never contacted by an IG or told anything about the status of her case, it was discovered that more than two dozen complaints against lawmakers filed to the LIG sat dormant because the LIG office was vacant for nearly three years. The office has since been filled by temporary IG Julie Porter.