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Rep. David McSweeney's bill to rein in local government travel expenses clears Illinois House

David McSweeney State Representative 52 District candidate
David McSweeney State Representative 52 District candidate

A bill that would make it harder for local government officials to travel and dine at taxpayer expense sailed through the Illinois House and is on its way to the state Senate.

House Bill 4379, filed in January by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, would limit the amount of money that non-home-rule governments can spend on travel, meals and lodging. The bill was inspired by a slew of reports and investigations revealing questionable travel and entertainment expenses racked up by government officials.

The bill, which passed the House on a 113-0 vote Tuesday, would require governments to draft ordinances defining acceptable expenses, set maximum limits and document expenses through a standardized form that will be public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Expenses by elected officials will have to be approved by vote in an open meeting, as will expenses incurred by rank-and-file employees that exceed the set maximum.

McSweeney’s bill also forbids spending taxpayer money on entertainment, such as movies, shows and sporting events, a practice that McSweeney called “inexcusable.”

“If [governments] want to spend money on travel, there should be a public roll call. They can’t hide it anymore,” McSweeney said.

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who has been among the many outspoken critics of the spending practices of ousted College of DuPage President Robert Brueder, will carry the bill in the Senate.

Brueder’s expenses, which included his membership in a shooting club and the food and alcohol tab at the college’s former French restaurant, made national headlines in recent years, but they are just one of numerous instances of public officials asking taxpayers to pick up questionable checks.

High-profile expenses include the Chicago Transit Authority spending more than $600,000 since 2010 to send people to Hawaii and Las Vegas for pension-related conferences, and an impoverished one-school district on Chicago’s South Side spending at least $65,000 on travel for board members and staff.

Charges put on the township-issued credit card of the highway commissioner in Naperville Township in recent years included sausages and beer from a supermarket, a $300 Italian restaurant bill and lunch at Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, a restaurant chain known for scantily-clad waitresses.

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