A BGA Policy Progress Report: Curbing Severance, Protecting FOIA, Consolidating Government

Here’s how we worked to make government more transparent and accountable to you.

Analysis
Background: iStock

The close of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session is a good time for the Better Government Association’s Policy team to reflect on the wins (and losses) we’ve seen so far in 2018. The BGA Policy team broadened its traditional focus by researching, drafting and advocating for an end to excessive severance packages statewide and worked to bring greater financial accountability to the Chicago City Council.

Springfield policy

In Springfield, the Illinois General Assembly (GA) approved 20 bills the BGA’s Policy team backed as good government reforms. The BGA also stopped two bills from becoming law that would have weakened public access to public documents.

At the top of our list was an initiative curbing public executive severance packages. The Policy team found a dozen severance deals that have cost taxpayers more than $5 million. We researched severance policy across the country and drafted legislation to curb the six-figure severance deals we found. In response to our findings, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, introduced the Government Severance Pay Act, which stops this abuse and saves taxpayer dollars. Hundreds of you supported our campaign and the Act passed the GA with nearly unanimous support.

Ending Golden Parachutes Bill passed

SB 3604, the Government Severance Pay Act, sponsored by Cullerton and state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Aurora, restricts public severance packages to a maximum of 20 weeks’ compensation. If an employee is fired due to misconduct, the act prohibits the granting of severance pay. On May 29, the bill officially cleared the GA and will be sent to the governor for his consideration.

Protecting your access to government information is one of our most critical jobs. This session, as happens every year, we found and successfully fought against two bills that would have weakened the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Our team worked with the bills’ sponsors and mobilized other good government and civic-minded organizations to stop these efforts closing off your access to government information.

Protecting FOIA Bills stopped

HB 984: Would have prohibited the inspection and copying of police reports, recordings, evidence, and other law enforcement records while a criminal case is still pending. After the BGA Policy team mobilized opposition to the bill among like-minded groups, the sponsor decided not to move forward and the bill died at the close of this session.

HB 4932: Required a requestor to seek a law enforcement record from the original agency that had created the record, even if the record was in the hands of another agency. Facing heavy opposition from the BGA and the Illinois Press Association, the Senate sponsor chose to hold the bill for possible revisions.

The Policy team’s actions to improve government accountability do not end there. In addition to our work passing many successful bills, the BGA Policy team also was a leading voice for ending gerrymandering and creating an independent redistricting commission to draw fair maps in Illinois. Hundreds of you worked with us, writing your representatives in support of redistricting reform. Unfortunately, the fair maps amendments never were called for a vote in either legislative chamber. The BGA Policy team will continue to work with our coalition members for fair maps and to compel all candidates for office to declare where they stand on independent redistricting. Both gubernatorial candidates, Republican Bruce Rauner and Democrat JB Pritzker, have indicated they support redistricting reform. We’ll hold them accountable to that.

Local policy

In Cook County, after successfully advocating for a program to allow citizens to voice their views on policy through the use of witness slips to the county board in 2017, the Policy team led the charge to bring responsible, independent oversight to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD). This spring, the district’s board started to make that a reality by voting to pursue creating an inspector general. We hope it will authorize Cook County’s independent Inspector General, Pat Blanchard, to also serve as the district’s first inspector general before fall.

MWRD IG Bill passed

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Authorization 18-0493: This authorization gives the district the authority to explore terms related to authorizing Cook County’s Inspector General to also serve as the district’s IG. On May 18, the MWRD Board of Commissioners approved this effort.

At the Chicago City Council, the BGA Policy team followed up on its research and advocacy, to support expanding the work and powers of the Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA). We will continue working to ensure this office is empowered according to time-tested best practices from cities across the country.

Expanding COFA’s work Bill passed

Chicago City Council Ordinance 2017-7866: Requires that the Council Office of Financial Analysis produce a fiscal impact statement for any legislation that changes that year’s approved budget or any sale or lease of city assets worth more than $15 million. It also includes a requirement that the office conduct long-term analysis. On May 25, City Council approved this ordinance.

Onward in 2018

The spring session might be over in Springfield, but local legislating and politics goes on. Over the summer, we will be advocating for a resolution in the Chicago City Council that will enable video recording and streaming of council committee hearings in an effort to improve government transparency. We also will work to support accountability in the city’s police union contracts as negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police and others continue.

The BGA Policy team also will be working this summer to put together our Springfield legislative agenda for the next session. Let us know of good government policy ideas you think we should pursue.


Springfield bills

Transparency and Disclosure 4 passed

HB 4278: If an Illinois Veterans Home administrator or administrative staff member discovers an infectious disease has affected at least two people, they are obligated to provide notice to all residents, post the notice at its entrance, and notify the Department of Veterans Affairs.

SB 2291: Requires the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to post an agenda for every Board of Directors’ meeting on their website two days before a meeting. The agenda will include the subject matter and specify details for contracts worth more than $100,000.

SB 3236: Requires a school’s annual report to include the most current data on the school district’s administrative costs.

SB 3139: Instructs and advises the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to use plain language when drafting legislation and other public documents. According to the Chicago Bar Foundation, “plain language increases the public’s understanding of rights and benefits as well as compliance with responsibilities and requirements.”

Government Consolidation 4 passed

HB 5123: Allows a county board to abolish its board of elections if there is no other local board of election commissioners in the county. The functions of the former county board of elections are transferred to the county clerk.

HB 5777: Enables a faster timeline in consolidating a unit of local government.

SB 2459: Allows the Lake County Board to pass a resolution to dissolve the Seavey Drainage District. In addition, the Lakes Region Sanitary District is allowed to dissolve itself upon entering into a dissolution agreement with Lake County.

SB 2543: Allows a mosquito abatement district to consolidate with another mosquito abatement district, municipality, or county upon a majority vote of the district’s board of trustees.

Electoral and Voting Reform 4 passed

HB 4469: Requires each election authority to collaborate with county jails to facilitate voting by mail for those eligible to vote in the county who have been detained before sentencing. In addition, county jail administrators also will organize efforts to register people to vote.

SB 2273: Requires Illinois to only use the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) as the exclusive interstate voter registration program. In addition, the State Board of Elections cannot share identification records with any other state that does not use ERIC, except with those states that border Illinois.

SB 2651: Requires each election authority to submit information about their voting equipment to the State Board of Elections every two years. The State Board of Elections then provides that information on its public website. In addition, the elections board also will provide support for local election authorities’ efforts to defend against cyber attacks.

SB 2900: Requires that if a school board vacancy has to be filled by the board due to a lack of candidates, then the school district’s voters will be allowed to elect a board member without any geographic restrictions within the district.

Government and Financial Accountability 5 passed

HB 4243: Prohibits public funds appropriated for General Assembly members from being used to pay any person for their silence or inaction relating to an allegation or investigation of sexual harassment committed or allegedly committed by a member of the Illinois General Assembly.

HB 5814: Requires the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to include an estimate of late payment interest penalties in its budget reports.

SB 3143: Requires the Department of Central Management Services to submit an annual report regarding installment purchases or lease purchases of buildings, land, or facilities.

SB 3560: Codified the Vendor Payment Program (VPP) into law. The VPP was created by the Comptroller’s office to assist vendors who were not being paid during the budget crisis by having state-approved, third-party lenders pay vendors’ bills for them. This requires information about the program to be made public and requires the Auditor General to audit the program.

SB 3604: Restricts public severance packages to a maximum of 20 weeks’ compensation. If an employee has been fired due to misconduct, no severance package can be given.

Ethics 1 passed

SB 2299: Prohibits anyone who has been elected or appointed to fill a vacancy in an elected township position to also be employed by that township in another position.

Criminal Justice and Judicial Reform 2 passed

HB 4594: Establishes waivers of court fees and costs for those who are too poor to pay, and establishes a system to reduce court assessment disparities across counties.

SB 2378: Requires all suburban police departments to have a policy in place for reviewing officer-involved shootings. This legislation was inspired by a BGA/WBEZ investigation of suburban cop shootings. The BGA Policy team, which operates independently of the Investigative team, supported this measure as a step toward accountability and professionalism.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2 stopped

HB 984: Prohibits the inspection and copying of police reports, recordings, evidence, and other law enforcement records while a criminal case is still pending.

HB 4932: Requires a requestor to seek a law enforcement record from the original agency that had created the record, even if the record is in the hands of another agency.

About the Author
  • Danish Murtaza

    As policy associate, Danish Murtaza focuses on policy research and writing, as well as monitoring of legislation in the Illinois General Assembly. Danish analyzes and explains contemporary policy issues regarding government accountability and efficiency. He provides analysis and recommendations to the policy team on legislation in the IL General Assembly.