Democrats vote to remove 9 maskless Republicans from state House chamber

  • Republican state Reps. Blaine Wilhour, Chris Miller, Joe Sosnowski and Brad Halbrook leave the House chamber in Springfield on Thursday after Democrats voted to remove them for violating rules on masks.

    Republican state Reps. Blaine Wilhour, Chris Miller, Joe Sosnowski and Brad Halbrook leave the House chamber in Springfield on Thursday after Democrats voted to remove them for violating rules on masks. Grace Kinnicutt/Capitol News Illinois

 
 
Updated 2/17/2022 8:30 PM

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 GOP Reps. Joe Sosnowski of Rockford, Tony McCombie of Savanna, Blaine Wilhour of Beecher City, Brad Halbrook of Shelbyville, Adam Niemerg of Dieterich, David Welter of Morris, David Friess of Red Bud, Chris Miller of Oakland, and Andrew Chesney of 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, a Chicago Democrat.

"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.

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"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 Republican leader Jim Durkin of 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, a Plainfield Republican, 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, a Woodstock Republican, 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, she said.

"Mind your own business, mitigate your own risk," McCombie said.

Rep. Seth Lewis, a freshman lawmaker from Bartlett, 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."

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