State legislative inspector to look into sexual harassment claims in Springfield

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The woman appointed to investigate sexual harassment and other complaints against state lawmakers is hoping to bring accountability to the state capital.

Special Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter spoke about her priorities on the eve of an important legislative session which starts Tuesday.

She is promising to follow the evidence wherever it leads and to try to give victims of sexual harassment in Springfield a safe place to have their complaints not just heard, but acted upon in a timely fashion.

"Every one of those complaints deserves a fair read, and a thorough investigation," Porter said.

Porter, a former federal prosecutor, will inherit a backlog of 27 confidential complaints that have gathered dust in a binder in Springfield for the nearly three years while the state has been without a legislative inspector general.

"When somebody puts up their hand and says there is something that has gone wrong there, we need to know that there's a place that folks can go to vet that and that it will be done independently, that it will be done fairly, that it will be taken seriously and done promptly," Porter said. "That's what I hope to accomplish."

"It's about time that the legislature has their own inspector general, they haven't had one for a while, they need one to be able to deal with these issues, I'm glad they've put one in. 31 and we've got to take every action we can," Gov. Bruce Rauner said.

Victim's rights advocate Denise Rotheimer has filed the only known sexual harassment complaint now pending before Porter. She made the accusations against State Senator Ira Silverstein. He calls them false. Rotheimer hopes it brings about a change in the culture in Springfield.

"I hope it sets a precedent that elected officials who behave like this need to resign," Rotheimer said.

On Tuesday, the House is expected to approve legislation to require sexual harassment awareness and prevention training for lawmakers' staff and lobbyists. The Senate could follow suit the same day.

In this current climate, Porter expects she could see a slew of people filing sexual harassment complaints.

"I am 100 percent independent. I intend to investigate any complaint that is within the jurisdiction of the special legislative inspector general, whoever it's against, whatever the claim is," Porter said.

The sexual harassment awareness and prevention training for lawmakers will be conducted Wednesday and Thursday by the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Another bill related to this that could be approved this week would extend the one year statute of limitations for investigating complaints. It would ensure that any of the 27 complaints that have not been investigated in that time would not be dismissed on a technicality.
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