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OUR VIEW: Lack of movement by Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform unacceptable

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, last week called on the state's Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to resume meetings immediately. The call came as four Republican lawmakers implored the co-leaders of the bipartisan, bicameral and multi-branch panel to restart meetings that have stalled since the novel coronavirus outbreak.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, last week called on the state's Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to resume meetings immediately. The call came as four Republican lawmakers implored the co-leaders of the bipartisan, bicameral and multi-branch panel to restart meetings that have stalled since the novel coronavirus outbreak.

It shouldn’t be difficult.

Amid calls to convene a meeting of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, is there another conceivable answer?

The commission last met in March, before coronavirus shutdowns. Members didn’t finalize the report due at at the end of that month, so the work stalled like most everything else in the state.

What’s happened since? Nothing, really, on the ethics front, except for the various elected officials implicated and charged in state and federal investigations. But in terms of reform, it’s been a giant goose egg. No more meetings. No report. No recommended legislation.

No excuse.

On July 23, the commission’s four Republicans wrote to the Democratic chairmen asking for a meeting. On Aug. 24 they had a video conference to demand the group reconvene and finish its work. It’s now September and there still seems to be no movement in what seems an obvious, uncontroversial direction.

Way back on June 12 — a dozen weeks ago — the governor signed an Open Meetings Act amendment allowing telephone or video conference meetings without a majority of members attending in person. 

In late May the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules convened in person. Forgive the alphabet soup, but if the JCAR can meet, why can’t the JCELR?

It’s not like the rules committee is overly friendly to the administration. Its meeting in May forced Gov. JB Pritzker to withdraw controversial public health emergency rules. Regardless of that outcome, the simple fact a dozen lawmakers could safely meet to do their jobs forces us to ask why 16 folks on the ethics commission can’t.

Democrats on the commission responded to the Republicans’ conference with canned statements that served only to disappoint.

“The Commission will meet to submit the final report to the General Assembly in the coming weeks.”

When? Put a time and a date on that promise or it’s empty rhetoric.

“It’s unfortunate that our Republican colleagues have chosen to politicize this issue.”

Are we truly at a point where asking to meet and finish late work is political?

“While our state is still hurting from the effects of the pandemic and cases continue to rise, we’re all trying to help our constituents the best we can, now is not the time to work against each other.”

Was it wrong for the commission’s Republicans to point out the arrests and investigations of recent months? Is it those members’ fault the latest developments have implicated high profile Democrats?

“We remain dedicated to finding meaningful ethics reform that restores the people’s trust in government and look forward to continuing the discussion in the coming weeks.”

Prove it. Schedule a meeting. Online, in person, whatever. Get to the table and finalize the report so constituents can analyze the recommendations and see if there is a legitimate commitment to restoring trust. Hiding under cover of pandemic isn’t restoring anything, and taxpayers are beyond smart enough to see through the attempted obfuscation.

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