(The Center Square) – The Illinois House may cancel all but one scheduled session day for February.
When lawmakers do return to Springfield for one day Feb. 10, it could be at the capitol building and could be to adopt House Rules for the new General Assembly.
In an email to members of the Democratic Caucus, House Speaker Chris Welch’s Chief of Staff Jessica Basham said feedback from members of the Democratic caucus “suggests the House should find a balance between remote and in-person work.”
Messages to communication staff from Welch’s office didn’t immediately address the possible cancelation.
“Great question,” said Steve Brown, a longtime spokesman for former House Speaker Michael Madigan who now works with Welch. “I will let you know when there is something to tell.”
“The public health recommendations on quarantine, both before and after a large gathering like session, makes the notion of weekly trips to Springfield impractical, especially for members and staff carrying for young and school-aged children and/or older family members,” Basham wrote in the email.
“Therefore, with the health and safety of members, staff, and the public being the priority, the Speaker plans to cancel the session dates set for February 2-4, 9, 11, and 16-18,” she wrote. “Members should plan to return to Springfield on Wednesday, February 10, 2021, for a 1-day session for one purpose: to adopt House Rules for the 102nd [General Assembly].”
Basham said House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, will be working with members on both sides of the aisle to gather and consider potential changes to the rules. The rules dictate things ranging from how bills get heard in committee, to the conduct of members and more.
Basham said when the House returns Feb. 10, it will be at the Illinois State Capitol building, rather than the Bank of Springfield Center where previous House sessions were conducted to allow for social distancing amid COVID-19 concerns. That cost taxpayers an additional $330,000 in space and equipment rental and catering.
Some Republicans have been critical of meeting at the Bank of Springfield Center rather than the capitol.
“I don’t think it is necessary for us to be spending additional taxpayer dollars to go to the Bank of Springfield [Center],” said state Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna. “Minimize the staff on the floor, don’t open the capitol to the public, the Senate seems to have figured it out.”
Reform For Illinois, a government transparency advocate, said lawmakers should approve remote voting and enhance public participation through remote hearings, but that the public should have the same level of access to the capitol it had before the pandemic.
“Let us go back to the House chambers,” McCombie said. “Let us go back to committee hearings, there’s enough room there. If you have to put some of us in the gallery, so be it. Plenty of room.”
“For floor action, a system of rotating members between the chamber and their offices will be implemented to maintain social distancing,” Basham said. “The outcome of this work will inform how the House moves forward in March and beyond.”
Basham’s email also laid out some guidance on what committee structures could look like.
“Please keep in mind that the committees for the 102nd GA will likely change,” Bahsam said.
The Senate canceled the days it had scheduled for this week. A spokesperson said the next scheduled session date for the Senate is Feb. 9.
It’s unclear how the chambers’ schedules will impact the governor’s combined State of the State/Budget Address set for Feb. 17. That is to be delivered in front of a joint session of the General Assembly.