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Illinois Lawmakers To Return To Springfield Next Week To Debate Budget, Legislation To Address COVID-19 Crisis

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Illinois General Assembly will return to Springfield next week to take up budget matters and issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, the first time state lawmakers will meet for session since mid-March.

Both the Illinois House and Illinois Senate will hold session from May 20 through May 22. The Senate will meet at the statehouse, while the House will meet at the Bank of Springfield Center to allow for proper social distancing measures.

In a letter to Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin on Wednesday, Speaker Michael Madigan said he and Illinois Senate President Don Harmon are ready to convene a special session under health guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Madigan said he's asked House Democrats to sign a pledge committing to abide by IDPH health guidelines, and is asking House Republicans to do the same.

"We are all looking forward to a return to some semblance of normalcy – and certainly, as legislators, we are particularly interested in resuming normal operation of the House – but we must also recognize that these are not normal times. A pandemic is not swayed by our speeches, by our desire for normalcy, or by political expediency. But as we all acknowledge, social distancing and medically guided precautions have saved lives," Madigan wrote.

Two House Republicans -- Rep. Darren Bailey, of Xenia, and Rep. John Cabello, of Machesney Park -- have filed separate lawsuits challenging Gov. JB Pritzker's authority to continue enforcing the statewide stay-at-home order beyond the first 30 days of his coronavirus disaster proclamation.

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IDPH health recommendations for lawmakers' return to Springfield include:

  • Legislators and their staff should get tested for COVID-19 before session resumes, even if they don't show any symptoms of the disease;
  • Anyone who tests positive should stay home and self-quarantine;
  • Lawmakers should travel to Springfield individually, and avoid carpooling, public transportation, or ride-sharing;
  • Lawmakers also should stay in individual hotel rooms or apartments, and avoid bringing their spouses, partners, or children to Springfield;
  • Upon returning home from Springfield, lawmakers and their staff are urged to get re-tested for COVID-19, or self-quarantine for 7 days.

Madigan also is asking lawmakers to practice social distancing at all times while in Springfield, and and to avoid "any unnecessary exposure by refraining from extracurricular activities like non-essential meetings, gatherings, shared meals or drinks with colleagues, lobbyists, or others while in session."

According to guidance provided by Madigan's office, non-contact temperature checks will be required for everyone entering the Bank of Springfield Center, where the House will hold session. Face coverings will be required at all times during session, and whenever in the company of colleagues or staff. The House will provide face coverings to all lawmakers and staff who need them.

At the Bank of Springfield Center, House members will meet on the floor level, using individual 6-foot tables. A limited number of staff will be allowed at the convention center and the statehouse. Other staff should continue working remotely.

The Bank of Springfield Center also will set up a public viewing area for session on the mezzanine level, to allow for sufficient social distancing. A press area also will be set up on the mezzanine level, and media outlets are being urged to set up pool coverage of session to minimize the number of people in the building.

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Pritzker said he looks forward to seeing the legislature return to Springfield, though he declined to say what cuts lawmakers should make to help balance the budget, given a steep decline in tax revenue during the pandemic, other than to say he doesn't want the state to reduce funding for the Department of Children and Family Services.

"We're gonna have to work on this together, the legislature, Democrats and Republicans, if they're willing to work with us. It's important that we have a plan here for balancing the budget," he said.

The governor last month estimated the state is facing a $2.7 billion budget shortfall this year, and revenue projections for next year are down $4.6 billion due to the pandemic.

Pritzker also has urged lawmakers to pass legislation for more aid to those out of work or whose businesses need to restart after being shut down because of the stay-at-home order.

"We must pass a law to distribute funds to small cities and towns, to support their need to support first responders and basic services that could fall apart from COVID-19 related revenue loss," Pritzker said. "As we work to keep our residents safe and gradually reopen businesses, I hope the legislature will act expeditiously to support the jobs, and economic recovery."

The two chambers have not met in formal session in Springfield since before the governor's stay-at-home order went into place in late March, but lawmakers have been holding video conferences as working groups to negotiate necessary legislation during the virus outbreak. The legislature has until the end of May to pass a budget with a simple majority vote. After that, a budget plan requires a three-fifths majority for approval. The new budget year starts in July.

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