SPRINGFIELD — Whatever must be done to get the Illinois Legislature back in session, House GOP Leader Jim Durkin wants it done.
“We’re adults, we’re relatively smart people, and we have to be creative in ways for us to return back to doing business,” the Western Springs Republican said.
Durkin and other Republicans said it’s time for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to stop governing by “decree,” during a Zoom news conference Wednesday.
They also took the opportunity to call the governor’s plan to reopen the state in phases “arbitrary” and to denounce demonstrators who used Nazi slogans and symbols to protest Pritzker as “despicable.”
Durkin said he doesn’t care whether the General Assembly meets in the State Capitol or a convention center, as long as it reconvenes — with the OK from public health officials — something it has not done since the first week of March.
While Pritzker can call the General Assembly back for a special season, the governor said last week that he would rather have legislators make that call.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon can also call their respective chambers back into session, but neither has done so, citing social distancing concerns.
And Madigan signaled little change in that opinion on Wednesday.
“First and foremost, we need to ensure the health and safety of members, staff and the general public is considered at all times when thinking about a return to Springfield,” the Southwest Side Democrat said. “While the governor’s actions have reduced the curve and saved lives, it’s clear that Illinois is not out of the woods.”
Harmon told legislators “a crystal clear plan” must be in place before the Senate can return, said John Patterson, a spokesman for the Oak Park Democrat.
“The fact that the [Republican] representatives chose to use an online meeting platform for their news conference proves that point,” Patterson said.
On Tuesday, Pritzker announced a new five-phase reopening plan he dubbed “Restore Illinois” which divides the state into four regions that can open up gradually — and separately — in phases. Those regions are Northeastern Illinois, North Central Illinois, Central Illinois and Southern Illinois.
Currently, the state is in phase 2. Phase 3 would allow non-essential manufacturing and non-essential businesses to begin to reopen with people wearing face masks. Pritzker formed the regions by grouping the Illinois Department of Public Health’s 11 Medical Services Regions into four zones.
According to the Restore Illinois plan, for a region to move to phase 3 it “must be at or under a 20% test positivity rate and increasing by no more than 10 percentage points over a 14-day period.” It also must show no overall admissions in for symptoms related to COVID-19 for 28-days and have at least 14% percent of its ICU, medical and surgical beds and ventilators available.
But science has its own limitations, the Republicans argued.
“The science can’t precisely tell us which region should be grouped with another region, or how small or how large those regions should be,” said state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon. “The science can’t definitively tell us when it’s safe to move from one step to another step.”
The GOP lawmakers contend Pritzker’s plan to mitigate both the spread of the virus and “cabin fever” among restless Illinoisans is not good enough, as many businesses in the state are on the brink of shutting their doors for good.
State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said Pritzker’s plan “doesn’t play in Peoria,” saying the central Illinois city has already met Pritzker’ goals, but can’t move to the next phase until at least May 29, the last day of the governor’s current stay-at-home order.
“These arbitrary designations really create problems for communities that are trying to move forward at a truly regional level,” Spain said.
Durkin said he supports residents’ right to protest Pritzker’s decisions, but he ended the news conference by warning that some have crossed a line.
Last week people gathered by the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago and in front of the State Capitol in Springfield to protest Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. A few carried signs with swastikas or German slogans from the Holocaust or likened Pritzker, who is Jewish, to a Nazi, something Durkin condemned as “nothing less than despicable.”
“I don’t know how anybody in their right mind, any adult in this state, could use that type of terminology at this time in our history,” Durkin said. “That doesn’t reflect the good people of this state, the good people within our party and also the good people of the Democrat Party.”
“I was sickened by that, to see those signs over the weekend.”