Former Gov. Pat Quinn backs GOP-sponsored ethics amendment

Former Gov. Pat Quinn backs GOP-sponsored ethics amendment

By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – A Republican proposal that would give citizens the ability to propose ethics-related constitutional amendments on the ballot received a bipartisan boost Tuesday when former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn endorsed it.

“I think it’s very, very important that this year, 2024, that the people of Illinois have their General Assembly consider an ethics initiative,” Quinn said at a Statehouse news conference. “We need this in our state.”

Under the state’s current constitution , citizen-initiated amendments are limited to amending Article IV, which deals with the legislative branch of government. Further, they are limited to offering “structural and procedural subjects” contained in that article, meaning they can only deal with basic aspects of the legislature such as its size, organization, and procedures.

The proposed change – House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 19 , by Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria – would expand the scope of citizen-initiated amendments to allow for changes to Section 2 of Article XIII, which requires candidates for state offices to file statements of economic interest. As of Tuesday, Spain’s measure had just one Republican cosponsor.

Specifically, Spain’s proposal would authorize citizen-initiated amendments calling for “stronger ethical standards” for candidates or officeholders of state offices, offices of local units of government, school districts, and positions on boards or commissions created by the Illinois Constitution.

“At its core, it’s a way to empower our citizens, our voters, to deliver upon the ethical reforms and standards of conduct in office that we need more of in the state of Illinois,” Spain said.

The concept of allowing voters to bypass their own elected legislative bodies and force public votes on proposed laws or constitutional amendments – known as “initiatives and referenda” – emerged during the Populist era of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, and they are more widely used in some states than others.

Missouri, Ohio and Michigan, for example , all allow citizens to propose and vote on constitutional amendments and state statutes as well as vetoes of laws passed by their legislatures. Illinois, by contrast, has only limited authority for citizen-initiated amendments.

Quinn recalled being part of an effort in 1976 to put a package of three ethics-related constitutional amendments on the ballot, but the Illinois Supreme Court rejected the attempt , saying the proposals went beyond what was allowed by the Illinois Constitution.

So far, the only citizen-initiated amendment to succeed in Illinois occurred in 1980 , with an amendment to reduce the size of the General Assembly from 177 members to 118.

In recent years, Republicans have made ethics reform a central theme of their strategies, both in the General Assembly and on the campaign trail. Those efforts have intensified greatly in the last two years following the federal corruption indictments of former Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and former top executives of Commonwealth Edison who were accused of bribing him.

But Quinn, who became governor following the impeachment and conviction of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said he pushed for ethics reform during his time in the governor’s office, but his efforts were stymied by Madigan.

“I was governor for six years,” he said. “And over and over again, I asked the afore-mentioned Mike Madigan to consider an ethics initiative. And he said no, he said he didn’t believe in that. Well, he’s not here anymore. He’s on trial.”

Madigan’s trial on corruption charges is scheduled to start Oct. 8.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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