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Senate Week in Review: November 6-9, 2017

The General Assembly acted on several legislative measures during the week, overriding several of the Governor’s vetoes and seeking to improve Statehouse sexual harassment policies. Also, the Legislative Ethics Commission appointed a new Inspector General November 4.

During the week, female senators announced the creation of a bipartisan Women’s Caucus.

In other action, Senate lawmakers took time to recognize and honor the men and women of the Armed Forces to commemorate Veterans Day, and farmers received some assistance with a recent harvest emergency declaration.

Measures pass targeting sexual harassment

The General Assembly moved quickly during the week to pass legislation in response to recent allegations of sexual harassment in and around the Statehouse.

Passed by unanimous votes of the Senate and the House, Senate Bill 402 prohibits sexual harassment of state government personnel, including legislators and lobbyists. State agencies and lobbyists will have to adopt a sexual harassment policy, and all state officials, employees, and lobbyists will be required to complete sexual harassment training each year. The Department of Human Rights will be required to set up a hotline to report sexual harassment.

The Senate also unanimously passed House Bill 137 in response to the scandal surrounding the Legislative Inspector General position, which had sat empty since 2015.  It was only within the last several weeks that lawmakers and the public were made aware that there have been 27 complaints filed with the Legislative Inspector General’s office over the last three years.  However, lacking a Legislative Inspector General, those complaints went without review.  House Bill 137 was introduced in response to a statute of limitations in current law that only gives the Legislative Inspector General one year to initiate an investigation after a complaint is filed.  House Bill 137 lifts that one-year limit to allow the new Inspector General to go back and review these complaints.

The Senate also adopted Senate Resolution 1076, creating the Senate Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention.  The Task Force is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of legal and social consequences of sexual discrimination and harassment in the public and private sectors.  The Task Force will later make recommendations on ways to combat sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace, educational institutions and within state and local government.

Special Legislative Inspector General Appointed

Recent calls for the appointment and confirmation of a Legislative Inspector General came to fruition November 4 as the Legislative Ethics Commission approved the appointment of Julie B. Porter to serve as the Special Legislative Inspector General.  The position had been vacant since 2015, leaving any complaints filed with that office on hold.  It wasn’t until testimony during a recent House committee hearing that lawmakers began calling for swift action to fill the vacated role.  Porter’s appointment took effect immediately and will expire on June 30, 2018.

Female senators announce creation of bipartisan Women’s Caucus

A bipartisan group of female state senators announced on November 9 the creation of the Women’s Caucus at a press conference in the Capitol.   The Caucus is being formed to promote and advance women’s issues within the legislature and to support female senators from both political parties.  While the recent focus on sexual harassment in the workplace will be a discussion within the Caucus, the group also hopes to become the leading voice in supporting, empowering and protecting women of all ages and in all environments.

Harvest emergency declared

To help farmers and grain handlers who are dealing with the fallout of rain-related delays, Governor Bruce Rauner recently declared a harvest emergency that took effect November 5 and will last for 45 days.  The declaration permits drivers carrying agricultural commodities over state highways to obtain a free permit to exceed gross vehicle weight limits by 10 percent.  Further, local authorities may waive the permit requirement at their discretion.

At the end of October, this year’s corn harvest was 17 percent behind last year’s harvest, and 11 percent behind the five-year average, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nominate an Illinois Veteran

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Illinois Bicentennial Committee are seeking to honor 200 veterans from across the state, whose sacrifices go above and beyond the call of duty. The HONOR 200 campaign is looking for the public’s help to nominate well-deserved veterans.  Nominees will be evaluated based on their achievements, and on the extent to which their contributions have aided, benefited, and provided inspiration to their community at large.  Go to www.illinois.gov/veterans to fill out a nomination form.  The HONOR 200 veterans will be recognized on December 3, 2018, during Illinois’ 200th Birthday Gala.

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