With few powers during emergency, some Illinois state lawmakers still want collaboration

The Illinois Emergency Management Act gives the governor the authority to declare emergencies in 30-day increments with few powers granted to the Illinois General Assembly during such times, but some lawmakers still want to be heard.

In two weeks, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is set to expire. The initial order went into effect March 21, but was extended through April 30. The governor said Monday that “adjustments” could be made to the stay-at-home in May, but he didn’t have a definitive answer.

“I can’t tell, you know, because there isn’t a date I have in mind for it,” Pritzker said Monday. “Things have to evolve.”

The governor said he would be guided by Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and other experts.

“There’s a building consensus … things are leveling more than they have before,” Pritzker said. “That’s a very good development. You want to see that curve continue in the direction that it’s in and the reason that it will continue is because people stay at home under this order right now.”

Other than appropriating funds if in session and approving mutual aid agreements, there is not much state lawmakers, who regularly assert they’re an equal branch of government, can do during an emergency.

“I am calling on Gov. Pritzker to convene the four legislative leaders to share what planning is underway as it relates to the reopening of our state,” said Illinois Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. “As no official notice has been made about extending the current stay-at-home order, I believe we need to begin discussions on an eventual, responsible opening of our state’s economy. And while I appreciate the governor’s willingness throughout this crisis to talk with me one-on-one, it is important for the leaders to meet.”

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said if the governor does extend his stay-at-home order into May, the legislature must play a greater role.

“Because we can’t lose sight over the fact of what’s happened to our economy,” Durkin said. “We have to be able to do everything that we can to reduce the number of Illinoisans who are contracting [COVID-19], but we also have to reduce the amount of individuals who are filing for unemployment. We have to be able to do both.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office said lawmakers were addressing constituent issues “of all shapes and sizes” and that working groups were starting up to review legislative ideas “both pandemic related and other topics” for when it is “safe to return.”

State Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian, said there needs to be a more collaborative approach with state lawmakers, rather than dictates from the chief executive.

“We are the people that are dealing with the fallout from that on the ground,” Marron said. “We’re the ones that are talking to the constituents. We’re talking to the businesses that are trying to determine whether or not they can stay open.”

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, said as a member of the co-equal branch of government he was confident in the governor and said he believes the governor is considering the science and data in his decisions. Zalewski said he would like to spur on the governor to get schools opened back up.

“And as much as e-learning is a godsend, I do really want them back in school, if for a short amount of time, just so that they can go into the summer with a minimum amount of ability to transition into next year,” Zalewski said.

Senate President Don Harmon’s spokesman John Patterson said Senators have been gathering questions and concerns from constituents and forwarding them to the governor’s office. They’re also distributing information to the public.

“[T]he 40 Senate Democrats have been eager partners, providing input and advocating on behalf of their constituents from across this great state to help shape the response during these unprecedented times,” Patterson said.

The governor’s stay-at-home order amid the COVID-19 pandemic lasts through April 30.

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