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State

Lawmaker proposes penalty enhancements for elected officials convicted of crimes

State should add time to criminal sentences relating to official public duties, state Rep. McSweeney says

SPRINGFIELD – Amid a backdrop of federal investigative activity and bipartisan calls for ethics reform, a state legislator introduced a bill Thursday that would increase the sentences of state lawmakers convicted of a crime related to their public duties.

Barrington Hills Republican state Rep. David McSweeney’s bill joins a handful of others that aim to institute a task force to study potential ethical safeguards, increase the fines associated with lying on government forms and bribery and give the legislative investigator more autonomy in her inquiries.

This “mandatory sentence increase” measure, McSweeney said, “sends a very strong message that we cannot tolerate corruption.” He also said he hopes the General Assembly will consider the legislation as part of the larger package of such initiatives when it reconvenes in January.

“Illinois has become a national laughingstock. Citizens are sick and tired of the corruption in the General Assembly and throughout the state,” the representative said. “We need action now, not task forces.”

McSweeney’s bill would tack an extra “five years of imprisonment” to the sentence of a lawmaker convicted of a felony “relating to, arising out of or in connection” to his or her public duties, according to the legislation.

The past few months, federal law enforcement officials have filed charges against two sitting Illinois lawmakers – Democrats Tom Cullerton, a senator from Villa Park, and Luis Arroyo, a representative from Chicago – and are investigating another sitting lawmaker, Chicago Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval.

The bribery charge against Arroyo, news of which broke Monday, sparked House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, to begin the process of removing him from office.

Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker also expressed a need to strengthen Illinois’ ethics laws during a Chicago event Wednesday. He said he is “disgusted by these people who take advantage of the public, who take public office and think that this is OK.”

“We are going to root these people out,” Pritzker said. “I’m glad, frankly, that people are being caught.”

McSweeney said ethics reforms are not a partisan topic, and given the “environment has dramatically changed” after federal probes, he hopes the Democratic-controlled General Assembly will grant his legislation a committee hearing.

“I have been very consistent in being critical of corruption in both parties, and I believe I can be successful in working across the aisle on this,” he said. “I believe it’s time to get tough on corruption. Let’s put some teeth in the law.”

Madigan’s spokesperson said in an email that it “seems like a wide range of proposals will be reviewed as legislators conduct the examination the speakeroutlined on [Oct. 28].”

A spokesperson for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said that although he had not seen the specific measure McSweeney introduced Thursday, penalty enhancements in general “have only exacerbated our state’s problems with over-incarceration – not resolved any underlying problems or issues.”

“The General Assembly should turn its attention to fixing the system problems that lead to our incarcerating too many people, not proposals such as this,” the ACLU spokesperson said.

The measure is House Bill 3951.

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