Face-off over masks-on rule: Illinois House Democrats oust three bare-faced Republicans objecting to ‘outdated’ policy

Despite Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifting the mask mandate for most public settings, Illinois House Democrats are sticking to rules requiring face coverings in their chamber. One maskless Republican insisted, “It’s time to stand up for sanity in here.” But Democrats accused unmasked colleagues of throwing “insults” and “tantrums.”

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State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, speaks on the House floor in Springfield on Tuesday.  Fellow Republicans raise their hands in support of his unofficial call for a vote on who believes the chamber’s mask mandate should be removed.

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, speaks on the House floor in Springfield on Tuesday. Fellow Republicans raise their hands in support of his unofficial call for a vote on who believes the chamber’s mask mandate should be removed.

Taylor Avery/Chicago Sun-Times.

SPRINGFIELD — One day after the state’s indoor mask mandate ended, the fight over a rule requiring face coverings in the Illinois House raged on Tuesday, ending in three bare-faced Republican lawmakers being given the boot.

“What we’re doing is the absolute height of irrationality. It’s ignorance. It’s hypocrisy,” Republican state Rep. Blaine Wilhour said on the House floor. “It’s time to stand up for sanity in here. It’s time to take a vote on removing this mask mandate.”

It was the Beecher City Republican’s third time being subjected to a vote that would see him removed from the House floor for flouting the chamber’s mask rule, which stayed in place despite Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifting his statewide indoor mask mandate in most other public settings as of Monday.

Republicans Adam Niemerg of Dieterich and Dan Caulkins of Decatur were also named in the resolution to remove maskless House members, which was introduced by state Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago.

It was also the third time for Niemerg to make the ouster list, but only the second for Caulkins.

“We’re looking at expelling members for doing something on this floor that they can do when they walk right outside this door,” said state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville. “We need to work to change these rules. These rules are outdated, and the only reason you guys continue to do this is because you want to have power over the minority party or power over your members.”

State Rep. Adam Niemerg of Dieterich objects to the House rule requiring facial coverings in the chamber on Tuesday.

State Rep. Adam Niemerg of Dieterich objects to the House rule requiring facial coverings in the chamber on Tuesday.

Taylor Avery/Chicago Sun-Times

Niemerg called for an end to what he characterized as “the circus.”

“Guys, this is ridiculous,” the maskless Republican said. “The CDC says no masks. The governor says no masks. The court says no masks. Pelosi says no masks. Biden says no masks.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance Friday, changing the way it determines the level of danger COVID-19 poses in communities, basing it more on what’s happening in hospitals than on case positivity rates. The new measures categorize COVID-19 community levels as low, medium and high. Masks are recommended for communities determined to be at the “high” level.

Just 21 of Illinois’ 102 counties fall within the high community level category. Sangamon County, where Springfield is located, is currently in the “medium” COVID-19 community level, a designation in which the CDC suggests masking as a possible option for those who are “immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease” or people who are in contact with “someone at high risk for severe disease.”

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, standing, talks with state Rep. Blaine Wilhour on the House floor on Tuesday.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, standing, talks with state Rep. Blaine Wilhour on the House floor on Tuesday.

Taylor Avery/Chicago Sun-Times

Democrats pushed back against their Republican colleagues’ objections.

“I just want to remind my colleagues on the right although they may have some legitimate points, some of them are a little bit out of context and not actually clear,” state Rep. Carol Ammons said.

“The governor’s executive order of new mask guidelines included facilities where there are large congregations of people. I do believe 118 people we consider a large congregation of people,” the Urbana Democrat said.

Collins, who has repeatedly introduced resolutions to remove maskless members from the House floor, slammed the Republicans for not following the House rules.

State Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, speaks on the House floor on Feb. 17.

State Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, speaks on the House floor last week.

Blue Room Stream file

“The motion is to enforce the rules. You can repeat the same thing over and over again. You can throw insults day and night and throw tantrums because that’s what you’re doing,” she said. “If you were serious about doing the work, you would show up with your mask on. But instead you would rather waste our time.”

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch announced Monday that the House gallery would be open again to members of the public at 50% capacity, and clergy and pages would be allowed on the House floor, but the Hillside Democrat didn’t budge on the mask requirement.

“As the House enters third reading deadline week, members and staff will spend a significant amount of time in close proximity with one another on the House floor. For this reason, as well as several counties throughout the state still showing a high risk for transmission, masks will still be required,” read the statement from the Speaker’s office.

House Democrats went by the rules, not the new CDC guidance, voting to remove the three maskless Republicans.

Niemerg and Caulkins left the floor quickly after the resolution passed, but Wilhour refused, even after the voting switch at his desk had been turned off.

“I’m staying,” the Republican said.

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