Undisclosed health issue sidelines lawmaker from Aurora
With the Illinois legislature approaching its final days of the spring session, state Rep. Barbara Hernandez has been absent since early March due to an undisclosed health issue.
According to several accounts, Hernandez, an Aurora Democrat, appeared to experience "a health emergency" on the House floor around March 1. State Rep. Paul Jacobs, a Pomona Republican who has a medical background, advised her to seek medical attention, according to a member of Jacobs' staff.
She has not been back to the Capitol since then, and neither her chief of staff, Hailey Edwards, nor legislative leaders will discuss the incident or her absence.
At one point, House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, a Hillside Democrat, and state Rep. Jaime Andrade Jr, a Chicago Democrat, made remarks to the assembly addressing her condition, according to observers. But Welch's spokesperson Jaclyn Driscoll declined to answer any questions regarding what the speakers said.
"We're not going to talk about Barbara until Barbara is ready to talk," Driscoll said.
Driscoll said Hernandez may be available for an interview by the end of April or early May, weeks after the spring session is scheduled to end Friday.
Hernandez was appointed to the 83rd District House seat in 2019 at the age of 26 when Democrat Linda Chapa LaVia was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. She was elected to the post in November 2020 and, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website, she has filed petitions to seek election to the newly drawn 50th House district this year.
Hernandez's Facebook page gives no indication of her absence. Instead, several posts highlight bills the representative has sponsored that are being voted on on the House floor. A post dated March 7 provides a link to an Illinois House Democratic Caucus webpage carrying a story titled "Rep. Barbara Hernandez passes legislation providing health assistance to expectant parents, prenatal vitamins." The story refers to House Bill 4338, which passed the House on March 3. The bill did not receive a vote from Hernandez, since she was marked as an excused absence in the final count.
Statehouse observers have called the lack of announcement from Hernandez's staff or Democratic leadership on the reason for her excused absence unusual.
Kent Redfield, University of Illinois Springfield retired political science professor and scholar, said Hernandez's ongoing absence is cause for alarm as constituents of her district are left without representation in the House.
"Representatives listen to your concerns and your opinions, and then consider them and take them to the legislature in terms of voting on bills, submitting bills ... so, at some point, there's concern about her meeting that aspect of her role as a representative," Redfield said.
Brief excused absences from the General Assembly due to health issues are common during the monthslong legislative session, but when lawmakers are gone for an extended time, announcements are usually made explaining the circumstances.