Legislators square up ethics and other regulations on Illinois’ red-light camera industry

(The Center Square) – While legislators are advancing legislation to shore up ethics concerns with the red light camera industry in Illinois, some are looking for even more ethics reforms.

Earlier this month, guilty verdicts were handed down in the “ComEd Four” corruption trial. The case brought by federal prosecutors in Chicago concerns a nearly decade-long bribery scheme where officials from utility Commonwealth Edison gave little- to do-nothing jobs to associates of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, in exchange for favorable legislation. Madigan has pleaded not guilty in the case and faces trial next spring.

Illinois legislators have yet to directly address the case with any substantive legislation that could curb corruption at the statehouse. Republicans have said the legislative inspector general needs to have more autonomy to investigate claims.

Separate from the “ComEd Four” case, in recent years, several state and local elected officials have been snagged by federal authorities for bribery related to red-light camera vendors. A Senate amendment to House Bill 3903 would address some of that.

Senate sponsor state Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, said the measure will establish ethical parameters and guidelines for how the technology can be used and how the industry interacts with state and local elected officials. Among other regulations, one element prohibits contractors for such technology from making political donations.

“It provides that no member of the General Assembly and no officer or employee of a municipality or county shall knowingly accept employment or receive compensation or fees for services from a contractor that provides automated enforcement system equipment,” Murphy said.

Some foresee possible First Amendment challenges as political contributions are considered protected by the First Amendment.

The measure also would prohibit the hiring of former elected officials into such industries for two years after they leave office.

Other provisions of HB3903 go beyond ethics considerations for red-light and speed cameras. Murphy said the measure also includes regulations about the ticketing determination that must be made by the county or municipality, not the vendor; signage to inform drivers where such systems are in place; and it would prohibit local governments from changing yellow light interval times and require a safety study every two years.

The measure passed unanimously. The House must concur.

While supporting the bill, state Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said more needs to be done in other avenues.

“There are many that still need to be addressed and let’s keep trying to be a better legislature and rid this state of corruption that has hindered us and taken us down for too long,” Tracy said.

State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, laid out one reform he says is most important, and that’s changing House Rules to dilute the power of the House Speaker to control what gets a vote.

“No one should have that much power concentrated uniquely in one position and that is still what we have today with the Speaker of the House,” Spain said on a social media video. “The rules need to change.”

Legislators remain in session through Friday.

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