Preparing to return to Springfield; Another local business needs help

Heading back to Springfield today

The House will be back in session today for the first time since March 5. We have a very full agenda as we are only scheduled to be in session for three days. The session will not be held at the Capitol, but will instead meet at Springfield’s downtown convention center so that we will have enough space for adequate social distancing throughout the session. These photos from the Springfield State Journal-Register show what our temporary chamber will look like.

All members of the House were asked to take some precautions to avoid spreading the illness. We were advised not to plan on having dinner or other social activities with our colleagues and to avoid bringing any family members or other guests to Springfield with us for the session. We were also asked to get a coronavirus test (I got mine late last week, and while it was not a pleasant experience, it was quick and it was nice to be told that the result was negative) and to be prepared to wear a mask for the entirety of the session. My wife Kathy was kind enough to make me a face covering to wear. We have also been told to self-quarantine for seven days after we return home.

So what is on the agenda?

Before session convenes, the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR) will meet to discuss the Governor’s emergency rule allowing criminal charges to be brought against businesses who open their doors before the stay-at-home order is lifted. JCAR has the power to stop this rule from taking effect. If JCAR cannot stop the rule, it will be in effect for 150 days. We will likely know the outcome of that vote before session begins for the day.

The special session proclamation had seven items, and these are the matters we will be limited to acting upon. They include essentials like the state budget and the reauthorization of our hospital assessment program, as well as potential extension of sunsets for laws scheduled to expire in the next year. Because there are proposed Constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall, the Secretary of State is required to send every Illinois voter a pamphlet with “the explanation, arguments for and against, and the form for Constitutional amendments.” The General Assembly must pass legislation specifying the exact language of this pamphlet.

There are also some vaguely-defined agenda items which give me some concern. We do not yet know exactly what will be proposed under wide-ranging titles like “the COVID-19 pandemic or other disasters,” “the 2020 General Election and the State Board of Elections,” and “economic recovery, infrastructure projects and funding thereof.” I hope no one tries to take political advantage of this situation to force through legislation that has little to do with the emergency we are currently facing. We have heard talk about legislation creating a statewide mail-in election, something which I have serious reservations about.

The legislature needs to take this time to re-assert our Constitutional role in the lawmaking process and to have input in the safe economic re-opening of the state, including making sure it is done on a regional basis using sound public health data. Many of us would like to see that issue put to a vote by the General Assembly. At the very least we should conduct hearings to review the executive orders and the dispute over whether they fall within the Governor’s Constitutional authority. The worst thing we could do would be to just rubber stamp the continuation of government by executive order. We will begin to find out later today when we finally re-convene.

Another local business struggling through the shutdown

A Picket Fence Florist and Market Street General Store has been in business in Paxton for 25 years. The owner, Teri Hancock is a single mom who was able to be successful enough with the business to send her son to college. But like so many others she has been having a hard time these last two months because of the stay-at-home order.

“Despite COVID-19, the monthly operations bills continue,” Teri wrote. “We have made modifications to save and be prudent in our spending; however, with reduced sales, that has become nearly impossible.” She says curbside service has helped a little, but the cancellation of proms and graduations hurt, and her flower shop has also been hurt by the ban on customers being allowed to come inside to look at her products before buying.

“If we do open, we have a very strict plan in place,” she continued. “That includes masks for customers and employees, social distancing, limiting the number of people in our store at one time as well as appropriate disinfecting procedures as recommended by the Health Department. Safety is and would be a priority.”

I say it again: businesses like Teri’s are ready to re-open and willing to do what they need to do to keep their customers and employees safe. We need to start lifting the stay-at-home order where it is safe to do so before it is too late.

More news from around the state

Latest Department of Public Health update includes one death in Iroquois County

What to expect when the legislature returns Wednesday

The House of Representatives schedule page (frequently updated while in session)

Watch House proceedings live (link is only active when the House is in session)

ISBE releases Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Grant

For additional helpful resources, click here.

For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: coronavirus.illinois.gov or my website at repbennett.com and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at dph.sick@illinois.gov.

My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).