CRYSTAL LAKE – In the wake of a sexual harassment scandal in Springfield, state Rep. Allen Skillicorn has introduced a bill that would create a dedicated phone line maintained by the attorney general through which people can report sexual harassment.
“As bills go to die in the Rules Committee, so, too – apparently – complaints went to an empty office for years, never to be seen,” Skillicorn said in a statement Monday. “As a freshman legislator, I am continually shocked by the unbelievable malfeasance in the operation of our government – from bloated budgets and a burgeoning backlog of bills to the unchecked abuse of power without oversight.”
Skillicorn’s statement and the bill, House Bill 4149, follow on the heels of a public hearing last week in Chicago, when legislative activist Denise Rotheimer revealed some incendiary testimony.
The crime-victims advocate from Ingleside accused Chicago Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein, the majority caucus chairman, of sending her inappropriate social media messages, paying her unwanted compliments and making late-night phone calls to her while they worked on legislation last year.
She said she told Silverstein that she didn’t like the attention but felt powerless to do anything in fear that he would kill her legislation.
Silverstein denies harassing Rotheimer but has apologized “if I made her feel uncomfortable.”
Senate President John Cullerton’s office confirmed that it received Rotheimer’s complaint Nov. 30. Spokesman John Patterson said that Silverstein was advised of the complaint and was told it was a serious matter that had been referred to the legislative inspector general.
But the complaint never went anywhere. To become a case, the complaint required action from the inspector general – a post that has been vacant.
A day after Rotheimer’s testimony, in which she questioned why she never heard anything about her case, Cullerton issued a statement that Silverstein had resigned his leadership post, which carries a $21,000-a-year stipend. Patterson dismissed the idea that Cullerton played a role in that decision.
The inspector general is chosen by consensus of the four legislative leaders. The Legislative Ethics Commission chairman, Waukegan Democratic Sen. Terry Link, said several solid candidates were approached in recent years, but all have declined. It requires someone whose reputation is beyond reproach for part-time, contractual pay.
Reliance on the obscure legislative post has fueled Skillicorn’s push to create a new avenue for sexual harassment complaints.
“The lack of a legislative inspector general for years is further evidence of an out-of-control bureaucracy led by a Democratic majority that is incapable of recognizing any limit to its power,” Skillicorn said. “It is utterly absurd to have the Office of LIG, which is supposed to ‘police’ the General Assembly structured as a part-time position with little to no staff appointed with the approval of those same legislators.”
Skillicorn said he has introduced a bill that creates a dedicated phone line maintained by the attorney general through which people can report instances of sexual harassment.
“Where has the attorney general been?” Skillicorn said in the statement. “From the AG’s website, ‘The first female attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, has long advocated in state government for women’s safety.’ Apparently, that doesn’t include the shenanigans at the Capitol just up the street.”
Madigan could not be reached for comment Monday.
House Speaker Michael Madigan filed a measure last week requiring training for lawmakers, staff members and registered lobbyists governed by the secretary of state – an effort to get out in front of a roiling national issue that enveloped Illinois days earlier with the circulation of an open letter demanding an end to a troubling Springfield culture.
The open letter garners 300 signatures and seeks action against harassment and intimidation in Springfield. The letter arrived in response to high-profile cases against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and others that surfaced and revived the #MeToo social media campaign from victimized women.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.