Ethics Package May Eliminate Many State Legislators' Perks House Republicans Push Clean Government Plan

Article excerpt

Overtime pay, paid speaking engagements, scholarships for your constituents - these are some of the little perks that come with a seat in the state Legislature.

But they would all be gone under an ethics package being pushed by the Illinois House leadership.

Eager to present themselves as advocates of honest politics, Republicans, led by House Speaker Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst, intend to present the package in committee next week.

"We have to get across the message that we favor clean government," said Daniels spokesman Mike Cys.

Tracy Litsey, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause/Illinois, applauded the GOP package as a significant first step towards ethics reform.

"If the House wants to move forward on the ethics package, we think it's fantastic," Litsey said. "We're anxious to be involved in the process and give it our support."

The bill would abolish the Legislature's 90-year-old tradition of allowing legislators to award two four-year scholarships to their constituents. That provision could severely hurt its chances of passing the Senate, where a similar ban on scholarships was soundly defeated 33-19 last month.

Legislators don't have to disclose who they give their scholarships to, and most don't tell. Many lawmakers split the money into eight one-year scholarships, benefiting over 1900 Illinois students this year at a cost of about $4.2 million.

Critics argue that politicians can use those scholarships to gain political leverage with constituents, using them to either reward supporters or seek favors. A federal grand jury is reportedly investigating how five current or former legislators used the scholarships. …