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Virus vetoes fall veto session: State lawmakers hope to meet in January

It’s unclear exactly when lawmakers may meet again. State Senate Majority Leader Kim Lightford said in a statement lawmakers will convene in January for a lame duck session.

State House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, speaks during an extended session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.
State House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, speaks during an extended session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

Citing concerns over a surge in coronavirus cases across Illinois, state lawmakers on Tuesday nixed plans to meet next week for the General Assembly’s fall veto session — the last scheduled meeting before new members take office in January.

The “postponement” was announced Tuesday afternoon in an email from Jessica Basham, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff.

Basham said there was a “strong majority of members who would prefer the House delay convening to a later date; this is primarily motivated by concerns about the rising COVID-19 rates and proximity to upcoming holidays.

“House and Senate leadership will be announcing the cancellation of the veto session (currently scheduled for November 17-19 and December 1-3),” Basham’s email, which was first reported by Capitol Fax, reads. “We will continue to monitor the evolving conditions relative to the pandemic and keep members apprised of future session dates.”

It’s unclear exactly when lawmakers may meet again. State Senate Majority Leader Kim Lightford said in a statement lawmakers will convene in January for a lame duck session. The next General Assembly will be inaugurated on Jan. 13, 2021, so that would suggest a meeting before then.

Madigan said health and safety were “paramount.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation, consult medical experts and do intend to schedule additional session days so we can finish our important work,” Madigan said in a statement.

House Speaker Mike Madigan talks on his cellphone from his desk during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center, in Springfield, in May.
House Speaker Mike Madigan talks on his cellphone from his desk during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center, in Springfield, in May.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement “this is not the time to physically bring together hundreds of people from all around the state.

“Given what’s happening, it was an obvious decision.,” Harmon’s statement reads. “It’s not safe or responsible to have a legislative session under these circumstances.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker sent a letter to the Democratic and Republican legislative leaders of each chamber on Monday to try to set up a meeting on the state’s finances.

The Democratic governor said in September that his cabinet directors were advised to prepare for a “nightmare scenario” that includes budget cuts of at least 5% for the current fiscal year and a 10% cut for the next one if Washington doesn’t supply the state with any additional funds.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in September; House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, right, in 2018.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in September; House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, right, in 2018.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file; Rich Hein/Sun-Times file.

Since then, voters rejected his graduated income tax amendment, which he was banking on to help deal with the state’s troubled financial picture.

Responding to Pritzker’s letter, state House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said Illinois is finally seeing the effect of the Democrats “failure to live in reality.”

”Passing a budget based on hypothetical revenue and false promises from a now-failed tax increase was unconstitutional and totally disingenuous to the citizens of our state who depend on government services,” Durkin said in a statement.

The Legislature last met in May, a four-day session to pass the state budget, coronavirus legislation and a few other bills. The House convened in the Bank of Springfield Center to allow proper space for social distancing. The Senate was able to meet in the statehouse.

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, gestures as he talks with state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, last May,
State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, gestures as he talks with state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, in May.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register file

Lawmakers were required to wear face masks, submit to COVID-19 tests and temperature checks and adhere to social distancing measures.

The General Assembly typically uses the short fall session, called the “veto session,” to resolve conflicts with the governor— and potentially override bills that have been vetoed. But lawmakers are free to address other matters as well.

There are no vetoes to address this year, so any legislative action would have likely focused on fiscal issues, COVID-19 measures and social justice reform.

Lawmakers had set an agenda focused on attempting to “address systematic racism and social justice,” according to state Senate Democrats.

“The change in the session schedule will not deter the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ efforts to rid Illinois of systemic racism,” said Lightford, caucus chair.

“We are still in the midst of a pandemic, and COVID-19 cases are surging across the state. I agree with President Harmon and Speaker Madigan that the risk is too high to convene at this time,” Lightford’s statement. “While we will not be able to pass legislation as soon as we hoped, the urgency to bring an end to systemic racism remains.”