Legislation aimed at saving taxpayers from footing the bill for steep special prosecutor-related legal fees passed the Illinois Senate unanimously on Tuesday.

The measure, House Bill 4749, seeks to prevent situations similar to those recently faced by McHenry County taxpayers, who have been forced to pay more than $500,000 for investigations and trials of local officials.

“There’s no question public officials should be held to the highest possible ethical and legal standards, but there’s also no question the legal bills we’ve seen in McHenry County have been extremely excessive,” said State Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry), the Senate sponsor of the bill. “Today we’re facing the worst fiscal crisis in history, and these investigations have been a major financial strain on our county’s cash-strapped budget.”

Cutting excessive county legal bills has been a top priority for McHenry County lawmakers this session; Rep. Michael Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) sponsored House Bill 2558, whose language ultimately became HB 4749.  This legislation would limit judges’ ability to appoint special prosecutors in situations where a county state’s attorney is unable to investigate a case. The bill requires judges to determine if the matter could be handled by investigative entities already in place, such as the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which would result in minimal cost to county taxpayers.

In cases where a special prosecutor cannot be avoided, the legislation also allows county governments to participate in agreements involving their rate of compensation, and compels special prosecutors to give counties a detailed invoice of the costs it incurred.

The legislation now heads to the Governor for his approval.

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