Illinois Democrats vote to remove 9 maskless Republicans from House chamber
Unmasked Republican House members exit the House floor after Democrats voted to remove them for violating House rules. They were also joined by their Republican colleagues who were in compliance with mask rules. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Grace Kinnicutt)
Drama over House’s self-imposed COVID-19 mitigations once again delays start of session
By GRACE KINNICUTT
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House voted to remove nine Republican members from the House floor Thursday afternoon for their refusal to comply with face covering requirements, delaying the start of the legislative session for the third straight day.
In a 66-39 vote, Democrats voted to remove Reps. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, David Welter, R-Morris, David Friess, R-Red Bud, Chris Miller, R-Oakland, and Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport.
While most of those lawmakers chose to participate remotely after that action, one, McCombie, remained on the floor, unmasked, without incident for the remainder of the Thursday session.
The removed GOP members were accompanied by most of their caucus upon exiting the floor, and they went to a private caucus meeting for about an hour before mask-compliant members returned.
The motion for the GOP removal came from Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago.
“If you choose not to wear your mask, do that outside of the chamber,” Collins said. “But while we’re in here, I ask that you respect the chamber’s rules, wear your masks, and get the work done.”
Passed at the beginning of the pandemic, House rules require all members to wear a mask unless they are eating, drinking or speaking into the microphone.
“We’re not sitting over here and telling you to take off your masks. We’re merely asking you to respect us as we respect you,” Niemerg said.
The unmasked members speaking on the floor criticized what they called Democratic hypocrisy, citing the fact that Democratic members are frequently seen out in public at fundraising events without masks.
House minority leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called on Democrats and Republicans to act with “civility” after receiving a letter from House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch about a week ago regarding the chamber’s need to “be more civil and work more collaboratively together.”
Durkin noted that while the removal of members is within the House rules, it is a “very serious sanction,” and does not help the situation.
“It does not put me in a frame of mind that there is still a place for civility where we can actually have an honest discourse between both sides of the aisle,” Durkin said.
Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, noted that the main frustration among Republicans the past few days is there have been two votes to remove Republican members from the chamber, but the body has not yet taken a vote to impose COVID-19 mitigations beyond what has been put forth in executive orders from the governor.
“I find it pretty unfortunate that this is the second vote we’re having to remove members of the body and we haven't taken one vote or held one hearing on the governor’s mitigations,” Batinick said during floor debate. “You guys have chosen to abdicate your duty to provide oversight. Live with it.”
Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, said the House should make its own rules regardless of influence from the governor’s office.
McCombie, who remained in the chamber, said when she was close to others, she asked if they would be more comfortable if she wore a mask. But the floor mandate was too far-reaching.
“Mind your own business, mitigate your own risk,” McCombie said.
Rep. Seth Lewis, R-Bartlett, a freshman lawmaker, said he joined the rest of the GOP caucus in leaving the floor when his colleagues were asked to leave.
“I believe in masks, so wearing one is not a problem,” he said in an interview after the vote. “But at the same time, to kick out members of the caucus, we're part of the Republican team.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.