Republicans call for reopening legislative session
The Capitol in Springfield is quiet April 2 as lawmakers and most state employees continue practicing stay-at-home routines as ordered by Gov. JB Pritzker. House Republicans on Wednesday urged legislative leaders to call the General Assembly back into session. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Ben Orner)
Second lawsuit argues Pritzker is exceeding executive power
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Republicans in the General Assembly are urging House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon to call lawmakers back into session so they can vote on whether to extend the state’s stay-at-home order beyond May 1.
The top legislative leaders, however, say they’re not yet ready to make that call.
“I'm not here to criticize the governor amid this crisis, but to bring attention to the fact that the state Legislature needs to be part of the decision-making process,” Geneva Rep. Dan Ugaste said during a video news conference Wednesday. “Any additional disaster proclamation by the governor needs the approval of both chambers of the Legislature.”
Ugaste was joined by Assistant Republican Leaders Norine Hammond, of Macomb, and C.D. Davidsmeyer, of Jacksonville, who argued that Gov. JB Pritzker is exceeding his legal authority by extending the stay-at-home order another month.
“A co-equal branch of government – and I stress co equal – the Illinois General Assembly has the duty to collaborate and to provide legislative oversight with the other branches of government, particularly with the executive branch,” Hammond said.
The Illinois Emergency Management Act gives the governor authority to declare a state of emergency for up to 30 days and to exercise broad executive power during that time. But the law is silent on the question of whether that may be extended indefinitely, 30 days at a time, although Pritzker has argued that it’s done routinely in cases of flooding and other natural disasters.
“I just want to clarify and make sure everyone understands that what we're talking about here is the governor's authority to go past that 30 days of emergency power,” Davidsmeyer said. “Whether you agree with the governor or disagree with the governor, we believe that a separate but equal branch of government, the General Assembly, should have input in the direction of the state of Illinois.”
They are just part of a growing chorus of GOP lawmakers who argue the General Assembly should be part of any decision to extend the stay-at-home order as well as when and how to reopen the state’s economy.
On Monday, a circuit judge in Clay County ruled in favor of Xenia Rep. Darren Bailey’s lawsuit claiming Pritzker’s executive order will infringe on his civil rights. And while that decision applies only to Bailey, and it is being appealed, Rep. John Cabello, of Machesney Park, filed a second lawsuit Wednesday, this time seeking an injunction to prevent another stay-at-home order from going into effect.
Pritzker on Wednesday called the latest lawsuit “irresponsible” and an attempt at “grandstanding.”
Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, has been urging Pritzker to call lawmakers back into session because those lawsuits, if ultimately successful, could put the state in financial jeopardy.
“If the governor believes his actions are best for the state, he should have the Legislature confirm it, and if he can't or won't, it calls everything he has been doing into question,” she said in an email Wednesday. “It is also putting the entire state at risk … and the state of Illinois on the hook for untold damages. Do it lawful, do it right, and be transparent about it.”
Pritzker said during his daily briefing Wednesday that lawmakers are considered “essential workers” and they can reconvene at any time, but that it is up to legislative leaders to make that decision.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said in an interview Wednesday that calling lawmakers back into session would go against the advice of public health experts about how to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon, also said it is too early to call lawmakers back into session.
“The Senate president has told senators that he wants to see a crystal clear plan of action for urgent issues before we return, along with a similar plan for how to protect the health and safety of lawmakers, staff, support personnel, media anyone else who might attend a legislative session,” he said in an email.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, of Bloomington, has also called for a return to session.
“Today I called the governor, the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate and told them Illinois Senate Republicans stand ready to return to Springfield to take up the timely and important issues facing Illinois and its residents such as the fair maps amendment and COVID-19 related issues,” Brady said in a statement Monday. “The work we do for our residents is essential and it can be done in a safe manner by following the proper social distancing guidelines. Other units of government are meeting and doing the people’s business. It is time for the Illinois Legislature to do so.”