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Our View: Improved disclosure proposal a positive

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

It’s not always easy to trust the intentions of state lawmakers.

But there’s a proposal in Springfield that, if signed into law, would increase transparency about financial information for thousands of Illinois officials.

The measure would tighten rules for disclosure of public officials’ economic interests. State law requires the statements from elected officials, high-ranking government employees and political candidates.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, introduced the proposal, which would require tens of thousands of public servants to file these statements annually to list outside sources of income, relationships with lobbyists and loans made or accepted on terms not available to the general public.

It also would require all answers be posted online in a searchable database.

The measure is an initiative of Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who has served on the Illinois Reform Commission and said passage of the bill would increase transparency – and build trust with the state’s residents.

“The people of Illinois deserve to know if elected officials and high-ranking government employees are working in the public’s interest or in their own self interest,” Simon said in a post on her website.

The current forms have been around for four decades, with questions so vaguely worded that officials can answer “none” or “not applicable” to practically every one.

Analysis of the 22,000 local government respondents that filed with Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office in 2012, for instance, found that 87 percent answered “not applicable” to every question on the disclosure form, according to Simon’s office.

Simon described the new form as having plain-language questions, definitions of terms and clear connections to information found on tax returns and investment statements.

The plan passed 52-1 in the state Senate last week. We applaud our local state senators – Pam Althoff, R-McHenry; Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington; and Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles – for voting in favor of it.

As of Wednesday, the legislation was in the House Rules Committee. We hope House Speaker Michael Madigan calls it for a vote, and that House members follow the Senate’s lead and pass it.

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