Sexual-harassment reforms advance through Illinois Legislature

Sexual-harassment reforms advance through Illinois Legislature

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers acted swiftly Tuesday to tamp down a growing controversy in the Capitol, passing a package of bills and resolutions in response to accusations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in state government.

The issue grew out of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood and snowballed when more than 300 legislators, lobbyists, staffers, and others in Springfield signed an open letter acknowledging and condemning "the culture of sexual harassment in Illinois politics and government," according to a resolution.

The issue blew up further with an accusation that a Democratic leader in the Senate, Ira Silverstein of Chicago, had sexually harassed a legislative activist while working with her on legislation.

Silverstein, who was on the Senate floor Tuesday but declined to speak to reporters about the accusation, was among 55 senators who unanimously voted for three separate measures addressing the issue. Similarly, the measures received unanimous support in the House.

Both contain legislation to require sexual-harassment awareness training for all state officers, lawmakers, staff members and lobbyists.

Lawmakers also approved overriding an existing one-year statute of limitations on charges brought before the office of the legislative inspector general, a position that was vacant until last week. A backlog of 27 outstanding complaints, some dating to 2014, will be reviewed by the new inspector general, Julie Porter.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said Tuesday the nature of the 27 pending complaints isn't known.

"We don't know how many of them are patronage or hiring or sexual harassment," she said.

And both houses approved the creation of a task force to conduct a "comprehensive review of the legal and social consequences of sexual discrimination and harassment, in both the public and private sectors, and make recommendation to the Legislature."

The task force would be required to report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 31, 2018.

Although there was no opposition to any of the measures, some Republicans argued they didn't do enough.

Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, urged giving the legislative inspector general "some teeth" to investigate patronage, incomplete financial disclosures and other issues.

"We've had ethical lapses here in the Capitol for quite some time. Our state is well-known for corruption and unethical behavior and it's on all of us to try to clean that up," he said. "There's so much work to be done to clean up the faith and the trust that the people of Illinois want to have in their government.

"Right now it's sorely lacking."