For the first time in a decade, Illinois state lawmakers are one step closer to installing a permanent Legislative Inspector General after the Senate passed a resolution to the House this week, but one woman who has been through the process said additional changes are needed.
Denise Rotheimer exposed a vacancy in the Legislative Inspector General’s office in October 2017. She testified to a House committee then that was looking at changing the law to allow the Legislative Inspector General to investigate sexual harassment allegations against lawmakers in the wake of 300 women signing a letter about a culture of harassment under the capitol dome.
Rotheimer detailed how she claimed former state Sen. Ira Silverstein abused his power to harass her while she worked to get an anti-violence bill passed.
It was then revealed the office that polices lawmakers had been vacant for years and complaints were stacking up without being investigated. Legislative leaders picked a temporary inspector to address two dozen cases, including Rotheimer’s allegations. Temporary LIG Julie Porter eventually found Silverstein’s conduct “unbecoming of a legislator,” but didn’t find he abused his power. Rotheimer said the report was flawed and inaccurate.
During a news conference Wednesday, Rotheimer said lawmakers hadn’t filed a resolution to install a new LIG since 2008. Just as she said that, it was revealed that state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, filed a resolution to appoint Carol Pope to the position.
“That’s why I came,” Rotheimer said. “Isn’t that so ironic.”
The Senate passed that resolution to the House on Thursday. Rotheimer said lawmakers need to go further and give complainants rights so they can get a confirmation that their complaint is being addressed, make the inspector truly independent so they don’t have to get permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission made of lawmakers to investigate one of their own, and to allow non-lawmakers on the commission.
“You can’t have colleagues overseeing the behavior of colleagues, that’s not impartial,” Rotheimer said. “These people know each other. They go to parties with each other.”
If approved by both chambers, Pope, a former judge and state’s attorney, will replace Porter by the end of the month. Pope was selected by a group of legal professionals and eventually nominated by the commission.
Commission Chairwoman state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said installing Pope will restore trust in the process.
“This was a little-known entity and a kind of a little-known way that we police ourselves,” Bourne said. “Now that it’s become more public I think that it’s important to have that spotlight on the position so that we know that there is an independent person who is kind of a watchdog on the general assembly and this isn’t just a kind of a free-for-all, that there is a process.”
The House is expected to take up Pope’s nomination before the end of the month.