Pritzker downplays special session powers while COVID-19 orders continue


Since there won’t be a fall veto session that was supposed to start Tuesday, and the governor doesn’t seem willing to call a special session, some are looking for joint committee hearings to provide oversight to the one-man rule approach of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 response strategy.

Citing COVID-19 concerns, leaders canceled the fall session for the Illinois legislature.

“There is a strong majority of members who would prefer the House delay convening to a later date; this is primarily motivated by concerns about the rising COVID-19 rates and proximity to upcoming holidays,” House Speaker Michael Madigan's Chief of Staff Jessica Basham said in a letter to members. “I'm advised that there are similar concerns among Senate members, who were also surveyed over the weekend.”

The governor doesn’t expect them back until January. But there are a growing number of lawmakers wanting to get back to legislating instead of one-man-rule.

Pritzker downplayed his ability to force lawmakers back to Springfield to legislate.

“There’s a law that allows the governor to call a special session,” Pritzker said.

The Illinois Constitution states the general assembly “shall convene” a “continuous body” and the governor may call a special session, but it must state a purpose.

“I just want to point out that just because you call a special session, in an environment like this where COVID is rampant, does not mean that members will actually show up and especially because the members have apparently chosen not to,” Pritzker said.

In previous years under both Democratic and Republican administrations that have called special sessions, Madigan has convened but no business would be conducted before adjourning. It’s unclear what would happen if Pritzker calls a session and a quorum isn’t met.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said the governor could easily solve a problem with a special session to address a specific purpose.

“The governor should call upon us to come back to Springfield to vote to make sure that during COVID we can legislate away from the capitol,” Ford said.

Several House committee chairs have said they can’t hold public hearings because of the pandemic, and virtual hearings were not approved as they were in the Illinois Senate. The Illinois Senate voted in May to allow virtual hearings.

Pritzker on Thursday said the general assembly is at the table in managing COVID-19 with the recently created Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission. The panel of 14 expires at the end of the year.

“I’m not sure exactly what the schedule is, but roughly weekly and biweekly, those meetings have taken place and So there’s been a lot of reporting to the General Assembly,” Pritzker said. “We’ll continue to answer questions and provide information.”

State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, is on the commission and has chronicled the false starts, poorly constructed meetings and limited time lawmakers have to ask questions if they can ask questions at all.

“We haven’t yet given a formal recommendation to the governor on any of the witnesses,” Murphy said. “It’s just an information-gathering device, which is useless if we’re not going to act on it. We’re just going through the motions.”

Lawmakers aren’t back until just before the new General Assembly is sworn in the second week of January.

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