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‘Grandstanding’ by Grand Old Party? Or is Pritzker masking his decisions?

GOP lawmakers said they will wear face coverings and follow other safety measures when they return to Springfield, but they want to put Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan under the microscope.

State Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, left, in 2017; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, in April.
State Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, left, in 2017; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, in April.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — After weeks of nudges from Republican legislators, the General Assembly is planning to return to Springfield to get back to work.

And as they prepare for the Legislature’s long-sought session next week, Republicans said Thursday they are willing to comply with safety guidelines issued by the Democrats – but they want an examination of their own.

GOP lawmakers said they will wear face coverings, submit to COVID-19 tests and temperature checks and follow other safety measures when they return to Springfield, but they balked at signing a pledge to follow those recommendations as requested by House Speaker Mike Madigan.

And Republicans want to put Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan under the microscope with a public hearing.

GOP lawmakers have criticized Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan as “arbitrary,” saying the dates in which parts of the states can begin to reopen don’t make sense, and its metrics ignore geographical differences in COVID-19’s impact.

Hoping to modify Pritzker’s plan, Republican Leader Bill Brady requested a hearing with Pritzker and Democratic lawmakers to “inquire about how they came to the conclusions in their plan.”

“I have heard members from both caucuses suggest this plan should be vetted and revised,” the Bloomington Republican wrote in a letter to Democratic Senate President Don Harmon. “I also believe this should be done in a public setting, which can be undertaken using available technology and social distancing protocols when we convene in Springfield.”

Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady.
Provided photo.

But when asked about the idea of a public hearing to hash out the Restore Illinois plan, Pritzker told reporters “it sounds like grandstanding to me.”

The Chicago Democrat said Brady should just give him a call.

“Leader Brady has my number,” Pritzker said at his daily briefing. “I’m not sure what he’s missing out on.”

“I’m very happy to have conversations with members of the opposite party and with members of the General Assembly, and I have been doing so every single day,” Pritzker said, urging Brady to call him. “I speak with him quite frequently, so there’s no lack of communication.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is asking a federal appeals court to vacate the Shakman consent decree and end federal oversight of Illinois’ state employment practices.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Thompson Center in March.
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Brady quickly responded to Pritzker’s dismissal of his proposed hearing as “grandstanding.”

“My caucus and I take the lives of our residents, and their livelihood, seriously,” Brady tweeted. “The public has a right to know how the decisions impacting their lives are being made. This is not about grandstanding; this is about transparency.”

It’s a recurring Republican complaint, that the Democrats are keeping them in the dark.

When the General Assembly meets next week, it will be the first time since early March. And in that time, more than one million Illinoisans have filed for unemployment benefits, and Democrats have projected the state’s budget shortfall at $6.2 billion.

But even with a return to Springfield, Republicans said they remain concerned that Democrats, who have super-majorities in both the House and Senate and control all statewide elected offices, will still leave the GOP out.

“There’s no reason why this should have taken so long,” said state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield. “We’re a co-equal branch of government, we can convene in a safe manner.”

The Illinois House is planning to meet at the Bank of Springfield Center, while the Senate is scheduled to convene in the State Capitol. In a letter to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Madigan asked members of the Republican caucus to follow “precautions that we will take upon a return,” such as submitting to COVID-19 tests and temperature checks, wearing face coverings, observing social distancing and traveling and lodging in Springfield alone.

During a Zoom news conferences Thursday, Republican lawmakers said they had no problems following the health and safety guidelines, “if that’s what it takes to get us back to Springfield,” but when it came to signing a pledge they refused.

“Will I sign a pledge? There’s no need for that,” said state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville. “I’m a responsible adult, I don’t need to sign a pledge to Speaker Madigan so he knows what I’m going to do.”