SPRINGFIELD — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday signed a measure to overhaul how ethics complaints are handled at the Capitol, a new law that comes amid a series of harassment allegations lodged against allies of his political nemesis, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Rauner hailed the legislation as "a victory for the heroic women who have stepped forward to take on the culture of fear, abuse and retaliation that permeates too much of state government."
The governor's signature comes just days after Madigan's longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes was asked to resign from his government and political posts after House staff member Sherri Garrett accused him of sexual harassment and fostering a culture of sexism and bullying. The proposal was pushed through the General Assembly last week during the final hours of the spring legislative session -- on the same day Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie resigned from Democratic leadership positions following allegations of inappropriate behavior and retaliation by former medical marijuana advocate Maryann Loncar.
Under the new law, the legislature's top watchdog will have the freedom to investigate sexual harassment complaints without first having to get approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission, a panel of lawmakers appointed by House and Senate leaders of both parties.
The bill Rauner signed also creates a four-person committee of former judges and prosecutors to search for a full-time inspector general to replace the temporary watchdog who was installed in the office last year. Critics have said it's a conflict of interest to have lawmakers appointing the watchdog that oversees them.
Former federal prosecutor Julie Porter was named to the post after the position was unfilled for several years, her appointment prompted by allegations of sexual harassment against Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein of Chicago. Victims rights advocate Denise Rotheimer said she initially complained to Senate President John Cullerton, whose office said it referred the matter to the inspector general's office, which was empty at the time.
Such a prolonged vacancy would be prohibited under the new law, which would task the Illinois auditor general's watchdog with taking up complaints if the legislative inspector general post is vacant for more than six months.
The measure also allows the inspector general to share information with a victim and others involved in a complaint. And it would task the watchdog with filing quarterly reports that disclose the type of complaints the office receives.
Lawmakers approved the proposal without opposition last week, but supporters said it was just a first step toward establishing more accountability. Rauner agreed, saying in a statement Thursday that lawmakers should address "two critical flaws" that remain.
First, the governor said the inspector general should not need permission to investigate any type of allegations, not just sexual harassment.
And Rauner contends that the commission that oversees the inspector general should not be composed of lawmakers but rather outside individuals "not connected to the legislative process." The idea is that the lawmakers shouldn't have the ability to block reviews of their colleagues or staff.
"An independent legislative inspector general and independent commission are needed to help restore Illinoisans' confidence in the legislature," Rauner said.
While the allegations have provided a line of attack for Madigan critics, they've also created friction for Rauner.
In her allegations against Mapes, Garrett said she had complained about inappropriate comments made by former Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago, but she believed Mapes did not take the situation seriously.
Rauner appointed Dunkin to a $70,000-per-year spot on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board last month. Dunkin had sided with the governor in a high-profile dispute over a bill backed by labor unions. Rauner has since called on him to resign, which Dunkin has rejected by saying the allegations are "baseless."