As sexual harassment allegations sweep across the nation, the Illinois legislature is now under fire for a lack of reporting procedures. Due to a staffing vacancy, dozens of complaints -- not necessarily sexual in nature -- have gone nowhere.
An Inspector General is required to consider ethical complaints at the Illinois State Capitol. But the state has failed to hire one for two years, resulting in a backlog of 27 complaints. Some lawmakers are furious that complaints have gone unanswered due to “a technicality.”
Ethics Commission Chairman Sen. Terry Link, D-Gurnee, says none of this should be new information for each member, which is why he’s been advocating for an Inspector General for a year.
“I think the commission itself is being blown out of proportion,” he said, “and it kind of upsets me in the sense that we’ve been a very conscientious commission. We take our jobs seriously. I think we do what’s supposed to be the right thing.”
Current law requires an Inspector General to elevate a complaint into an open case.
Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, is one of two women on the ethics commission. She says she first learned of the complaints on Wednesday and is calling for emergency changes to the reporting procedures.
“Who made the decision that the commission would be told that there are quote, no cases, technically correct,” she asked, “but at the same time not disclose that you have 27 complaints that are backed up because you have no inspector general?”
There used to be a legislative inspector general, but that office has been vacant for more than two years.
Now, with a claim of sexual harassment against a sitting state senator, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, says he hopes to have an interim inspector general in place next week.
Tom Homer was the last permanent inspector general. He would receive complaints against legislators -- including sexual harassment complaints -- but says his impact was limited because he didn’t have a staff.
“In large part, this law is a toothless tiger without some enforcement mechanisms,” Homer said.
- Reporters Tony Arnold and Jaclyn Driscoll contributed to this report.