Illinois lawmakers forego vote on governor’s pandemic authority

By Greg Bishop

SPRINGFIELD – While they passed a budget, expanded mail-in-voting and even approved cocktails to go amid a pandemic, Illinois state lawmakers didn’t provide a check on the governor’s authority to reshape the state’s economy.

The Illinois General Assembly was scheduled for three days last week, but ran into overtime ending in the wee hours of Sunday. Things that were top of mind just a handful of months ago were left on the cutting room floor.

Lawmakers passed a $40 billion budget based heavily on borrowing. They also expanded mail-in balloting for the coming election, remote learning for schools, cocktails to go, and a variety of other COVID-related measures.

“During this special session we have stood up for all of those whose lives have been disrupted by this pandemic,” a masked House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said early Sunday.

But House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said there was no mention of reforming the state’s second-highest in the nation property taxes or addressing the cloud of corruption or the red light camera scandal, things that were top of mind just three months ago.

“What happened, ladies and gentlemen of the General Assembly, we never came close to any of these,” Durkin said. “Not one word has been spoken about those issues in these days down here.”

A widespread federal investigation into pay-to-play and other corruption in Illinois state government has led to raids on lawmakers’ and lobbyists homes and offices as well as indictments.

Many of the issues lawmakers passed last week were debated in working groups behind closed doors with little public input.

One measure that passed creates a Democrat-controlled oversight group to review and report on the governor’s five-phased reopening plan amid COVID-19 concerns. That does not deal with whether the governor has the extended authority to keep sectors of the state shut down.

State Sen. Jason Barikcman, R-Bloomington, said the legislature has to be a check on the governor.

“My constituents and my communities are crying out for us to do something while the governor continues to act in a unilateral manner,” Barickman said.

The governor has issued multiple executive orders and disaster proclamations that have closed parts of the state’s economy for more than two months. He issued a phased-in reopening plan, but there’s been no vote from the legislature about the plan or about his authority to reshape the state’s economy amid a pandemic.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, said to wait to see how it “plays out.”

“We are not walking away from our responsibility,” Sims said. “We are engaging. We are making sure that the plan plays out on behalf of all of our constituents.”

While the legislature has refused to act, several cases challenging the governor’s authority are playing out in state and federal courts.

The General Assembly is scheduled back after the November election.

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.

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