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Ethics bill fails as Republicans pull support; lawmakers override governor on ambulance veto

Ethics bill fails as Republicans pull support; lawmakers override governor on ambulance veto

By JERRY NOWICKI
and PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House failed to muster the votes Tuesday to accept Gov. JB Pritzker’s amendatory veto to an ethics bill that passed nearly unanimously earlier this year.

Pritzker issued the amendatory veto of Senate Bill 539 Friday, saying he supports the legislation but would like to see a minor change in language dealing with the office of executive inspector general.

The Senate approved that technical change unanimously, but the trouble for the governor came in the House as Republicans removed their support for the bill and not enough Democrats remained in the chamber just before 10 p.m. Tuesday to reach the three-fifths vote needed for it to pass.

Among other things, the bill would have prohibited legislators and constitutional officers from engaging in “compensated lobbying” of a municipality, county or township. The same would have applied to elected and appointed executive or legislative officials of county, municipal or township governments.

The bill also would have made a number of changes to financial disclosure requirements and limited the ability of lawmakers to leave office and immediately go to work as lobbyists.

It also would have given the legislative inspector general independent authority to launch investigations, but only after a formal complaint is filed. It would have restricted those investigations to matters that arise out of government service or employment, not to outside employment.

The bill passed the General Assembly on the final day of the spring session, June 1, by overwhelming majorities – 56-0 in the Senate; 113-5 in the House – even though many Republicans complained that they didn’t think the bill went far enough.

Soon after it passed, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope announced that she would resign, effective Dec. 15, calling the job a “paper tiger” and saying it showed that “true ethics reform is not a priority” for the General Assembly. She specifically alleged the provision limiting her ability to investigate non-governmental ethics violations, and the fact that a complaint would be required for an investigation, tied her hands.

Following that announcement, some legislative Republicans called on Pritzker to use his amendatory veto power to send the bill back for revisions, “striking the provisions that would disempower the legislative inspector general.”

In his message, however, Pritzker did not mention the office of legislative inspector general, but rather its counterpart in the executive branch, the executive inspector general.

Specifically, he pointed to a change made in the bill that says the executive inspector general may receive and investigate complaints of wrongful behavior “without advance approval of the executive ethics commission.”

On Tuesday during floor debate, Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, evoked Pope’s resignation and noted Pritzker didn’t take any proposed GOP changes into account.

“Choosing to vote to uphold this weak amendatory veto is doubling down on the fact that the ethics reform that you passed takes away the ability to have a true and independent watchdog over this body,” Bourne, who initially voted for the bill, said in floor debate. “Choosing to side with this weak amendatory veto is choosing to side to give cover to politicians, rather than having an opportunity for the public to have faith in our government.”

Ambulance veto overridden: Pritzker was dealt another blow when lawmakers overrode his veto of a bill that removes non-emergency ambulance services from Medicaid managed care and places it back in a fee-for-service structure.

The bill passed each chamber unanimously earlier this year and the veto was overridden with only one vote against in the House. The Senate approved the override unanimously Tuesday night.

The measure would transfer the review of claims from managed care organizations, or MCOs, which are private insurance companies that oversee most Medicaid services in the state. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which opposed the bill, would be the entity handling those claims under the bill. They already do so for emergency ambulance services, a change made in April.

The Illinois State Ambulance Association said the measure, House Bill 684, is needed to counter arbitrary denials of claims by private insurers. The governor’s office and HFS, however, expressed “serious concerns for patient safety and cost.”

In his veto message, Pritzker said the bill “has the potential to disrupt care and reduce the quality of provided medical transportation services to some of the most vulnerable Illinoisans.”

But ambulance services said payment delays from MCOs threatened staffing, and the change would simply provide a way to “get paid for the services provided.”

Lawmakers sided with the ambulance providers over the governor, HFS and the MCOs.

Maternal health: Lawmakers also accepted an amendatory veto that aims to fix a technical issue on a bill Pritzker supported. The measure, Senate Bill 967, will expand the current Illinois Medicaid plan “so that individuals who don’t qualify for full benefit Medicaid still have coverage for preventive contraceptive care and associated screenings related to reproductive well-being,” according to the governor’s office.

The bill passed each chamber unanimously Tuesday after the amendatory veto changed only an effective date.

State Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, the bill’s Senate sponsor, noted in a news release when the bill passed that it also “would provide support for pregnant and new mothers for pregnancy-related condition, including mental health and substance use disorders by requiring private insurance plans to cover postpartum complications up to one year after delivery among other requirements.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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