News Local/State

Illinois GOP Lawmakers Want Harsher Penalties For Public Corruption

Rep. Grant Wehrli addresses the media on Oct. 28. At right, Democratic state Rep. Maurice West

Rep. Grant Wehrli (R, Naperville) addresses the media on Oct. 28. At right, Democratic state Rep. Maurice West. Sam Dunklau/NPR Illinois

As a growing number of Illinois state lawmakers have been ensnared in recent federal probes, some of their colleagues want to ramp up punishment for public corruption.

The group, led by state Rep. Grant Wehrli (R, Naperville), is pushing to increase fines to as much as a million dollars for crimes ranging from skipping ethics training to bribery.

As federal agents have been investigating, even arresting, at least three Democratic state lawmakers in wide-ranging probes, the GOP says tougher ethics laws are needed now more than ever.

Rep. Wehrli says the proposal goes beyond politics.

“This is not something that’s isolated to a single party; both parties are culpable in this," he explained. "These breaches in public trust have resulted in lack of trust in us as elected officials and voter apathy.”

Even a Democrat wants Illinois to clamp down on corrupt officials. State Rep. Maurice West of Rockford joined Republican lawmakers at a press conference Monday.

"When you see corruption as we have seen in the past decade, it makes it hard for the voters to come out and to trust the people that they voted in to represent them,” he said.

The legislation was first introduced earlier this year, but was never allowed to come up for a vote. The sponsors were not clear about how the steeper fines would be enforced.

State Sen. Sue Rezin claimed she and others had proposed a bill to more harshly punish corruption as far back as 2012, but to no avail. She said Illinois has been grappling with the problem for too long.

"We just can't wait any longer to catch up to implementing common-sense ethical rules."

It remains to be seen whether the House Democratic majority will allow the legislation to come up for debate.