State lawmakers heading back to Springfield next week, with precautions
After weeks in recess because of COVID-19, the Illinois General Assembly will return to work next week for a weighty session amid revenue freefalls and partisan disputes over guidelines for lifting stay-at-home restrictions.
The special session declared by Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon is scheduled for May 20-22. Officials must follow several precautions to avoid any spread of the respiratory disease.
Based on Illinois Department of Public Health requirements, legislators must wear masks, be tested before the session resumes, undergo touchless temperature checks, and travel alone.
In a letter to House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, Madigan said he is requiring his Democratic caucus to sign a pledge agreeing to follow the IDPH guidelines and he asked the Western Springs Republican to do the same with his caucus.
"We are particularly interested in resuming normal operation of the House -- but we must also recognize that these are not normal times. A pandemic is not swayed by our speeches, by our desire for normalcy, or by political expediency," Madigan wrote.
Republican leaders had been calling for the legislature to reconvene for some weeks.
"After two months of inaction, it is about time we get back to the job we were elected to do," Durkin, of Western Springs, said in a statement.
Harmon said he had high hopes the Senate could work in a bipartisan fashion, because since recessing in March, "from far-flung living rooms, kitchen tables and home offices, senators have been working together while apart to figure out what we can and need to do now."
GOP Senate Leader Bill Brady fired a warning shot about a referendum on a graduated income tax in November spearheaded by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that Republicans oppose.
"It is vital the legislature be a part of the decision-making process when it comes to maintaining the public's health, reopening our state, moving our economy forward and overcoming a graduated income tax that would negatively impact Illinois families," Brady said.
Pritzker said he was pleased lawmakers were assembling.
"It's very important to me that we pass a COVID relief package for families of the state, for small towns and for the small businesses," he said. "How will we pay for it? We have real challenges with the loss of revenue because of COVID-19. We need to rely on the federal government and its support for all states in order for us provide the services people need."
The House will meet in the Bank of Springfield Convention Center and the Senate will meet at the Capitol, officials said.
At the convention center, lawmakers or their staffs who have a temperature of 100 degrees or higher must leave and will be required to take a COVID-19 test.
Inside, representatives will sit at 6-feet-long tables spaced apart.
Along with the COVID-19 response, lawmakers will work to address the shortfall in the 2020 budget related to the pandemic and the 2021 budget; the state's fiscal year starts July 1. Millions of dollars are being lost in sales and other taxes with high unemployment and businesses closing as a result of the disease.
Daily Herald Staff Writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.