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Lawmakers could pick new legislative watchdog before end of veto session

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Monday, November 5, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Legislative Scandals & Subpoenas (45b) , Legislature (56) Bourne, Avery---State House, 95 , Ives, Jeanne--State House, 42
The new chairwoman of a committee designed to hold state lawmakers accountable for wrongdoing said she expects a new legislative inspector general to be approved by lawmakers this month.

A multi-year vacancy in the legislative inspector general’s office was revealed in October 2017 when a woman told lawmakers her complaint against a state senator hadn’t been investigated for a year. Julie Porter, a former assistant U.S. attorney, was appointed as the temporary legislative inspector general after news of the longtime vacancy hit the headlines.

Legislative Ethics Commission Chairwoman state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said a new selection process has produced some candidates to take over the inspector's watchdog duties on a more permanent basis.

“We saw a breakdown in the process in the past few years because it was generally up to the legislative leaders,” Bourne said.

Lawmakers changed the process by law to require a search committee to interview candidates and make recommendations.

“Now it’s our job to go through the recommendations and make a recommendation to the General Assembly, so we are closer,” Bourne said. “This is how the process is supposed to work.”

Bourne, who took over as chairwoman of the commission as part of a rotation, expects lawmakers to approve a more permanent legislative inspector general during veto session that begins November 13. However, she said more needs to be done to bring trust and legitimacy to the watchdog position.

“How do we make sure that the victims, as the taxpayers in the general public on one hand or as an individual, that both are respected,” Bourne said.

The Legislative Ethics Commission, made up entirely of state lawmakers, was created to field complaints of wrongdoing and ethics violations. The commission came under fire in 2017 when the inspector general vacancy was revealed because more than two dozen allegations of wrongdoing by public officials hadn't been investigated. Many of those cases have been resolved. However, some of the complaints remain pending.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, said complainants need rights in the process. She also said that changes are needed for inspector general positions across state government. There are inspectors general for the governor’s offices and departments, and inspectors general for the offices of the Treasurer, Comptroller, Attorney General and Secretary of State.

“These complainants literally make a complaint and they don’t know what the status is of the complaint at all,” Ives said. “They’re never, never involved.”