(The Center Square) – As Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order enters a second month and with an extension beyond the end of April expected, some have questioned the governor’s authority to issue emergency declarations.
Longtime Illinois politics professor Kent Redfield said the governor’s emergency declaration powers are limited to 30 days, but can be extended another 30 days.
“The legislature could come back into session, could modify or repeal the Emergency Management Agency Act and then the governor would either sign that or veto it,” Redfield said. “If the legislature overrode the veto, that would then become law.”
State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, said that was unlikely because the majority of General Assembly members are in the same party as the governor.
“That’s the interesting conundrum of living life in a state with a supermajority, nobody is calling for anything,” Bailey said. “Everybody is just sitting on their hands. Nobody cares to seem to want to do anything.”
Outside of trying to pass a law to take such powers away, which the governor could veto, the legislature doesn’t have much authority, Redfield said. However, the governor’s authority could be challenged in court. Redfield said anyone claiming to have been hurt by the order could sue.
“It would seem that a group of businessmen could bring a suit in state court and challenge the constitutionality of the governor’s stay-at-home order,” he said.
Bailey said he and his constituents have “played along long enough,” but “enough is enough.” Bailey said he’s pushing for a regional reopening of the state’s economy, but he’s not ruling out challenging the governor’s authority in the courts. He said he feels the governor’s powers were being “abused.”
“We hear absolutely no talk, no concern, of life in general, of the families who are out there hurting right now, financially, through [the Department of Children and Family Services], through [the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity], the businesses, that’s being ignored, so, yeah, it’s a tyrannous situation,” Bailey said. “That’s the problem.”
State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, dismissed the notion the governor or his public health staff were being tyrants.
“I’m of the opinion that they’re there to talk about science and not talk about imposing their bureaucratic will on us,” Zalewski said. “I think, again, the governor’s going to listen to a wide variety of experts on when to reopen the economy and I think he’s going to make the best decision he can under the circumstances. Short of that, I don’t have any concerns that we’re being overrun by scientific bureaucrats.”
Pritzker said on Tuesday that he was not comfortable governing by executive order.
“We’re in a worldwide pandemic, we’re in an emergency situation, we’re under a disaster proclamation because people are dying and people are getting sick,” Pritzker said. “As soon as we can get on the other side of this challenge, look, I want regular order.”
He said his legislative agenda for this spring session can’t be accomplished during a pandemic.
“We have created a separate pandemic that is far more reaching than this health concern,” Bailey said. “That’s the pandemic of the American people where the typical Illinois citizen is out there right now scared to death, panicking because they have absolutely and have had no income since this began in the third week of March.”
“Short of the legislature coming back and somehow taking some kind of action to repeal the law, to pass a new law, or short of someone bringing a challenge in the state supreme court that he has exceeded his authority under the act, a reasonable interpretation of what the legislative intent was then I think he has very, very broad powers to act in the situation that we’re in.”
Pritzker’s stay-at-home order expires on April 30. However, the governor has said that his office is looking at making changes to the order going forward rather than lifting it completely. He has not yet provided details on what changes could be made to the order.