SPRINGFIELD — Some ten days after lawmakers left town following a brief legislative session held along strict public health guidelines, three state representatives on Wednesday called for for a “special emergency legislative session” to address “the rebuilding of our communities and the pursuit of justice and equity.”
In a letter to state House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon, the three members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus – state Representatives Kam Buckner, Curtis Tarver and Lamont Robinson – wrote that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the “national uproar against the killing of an unarmed African-American by law enforcement” have instigated a “state of emergency” that the state Legislature needs to address.
“Our communities simply can not wait until the November veto session to address these systemic failures and the eroded trust of our neighborhoods when it comes to government, law enforcement and the criminal justice system as well as economic development,” the three Chicago Democrats wrote. “We are in a state of emergency and need to act immediately.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept the General Assembly away from Springfield for much of the spring session, with lawmakers only making their way to the state capital in late May for a quick, four-day session to pass a budget and a few other pieces of legislation, including a measure designed to pave the way for a Chicago casino.
When lawmakers – required to wear face coverings and submit to temperature checks and other precautions — ended their session in the early hours of the morning on May 24, they did not expect to return to Springfield until the fall veto session. Asked that day whether he would support a special legislative session to pass ethics reform, Harmon said,“I don’t think anyone is eager for us to call everyone back here.”
But the following day, George Floyd died in Minneapolis, with a police officer’s knee on his neck. The killing sparked outrage, protests and calls for criminal justice reform across the nation.
Looting and vandalism also broke out in Chicago and other Illinois cities.
In a statement Wednesday, a spokesman said “President Harmon has been contacting caucus members and is eager to engage in building an agenda for action,” but he did not clarify whether that means the Oak Park Democrat supports a special session.
Spokesmen for Madigan, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate GOP Leader Bill Brady did not respond to requests for comment.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker could call the Legislature back to Springfield for a special legislative session, but spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh would only say that the governor will support a special session if legislative leaders request one.
“The Governor will support the Leaders if they request a special session,” Abudayyeh said in a statement. “Gov. Pritzker firmly believes real structural change comes from protest paired with policy. The Governor’s office is in close contact with members of the black caucus to discuss their priorities for police reform with genuine investigations, transparency, and accountability.”
Not everyone is ready to return to Springfield just yet.
At an Illinois Legislative Black Caucus news conference on the South Side on Tuesday, Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said that “we need to call the governor and let him know the cat is out of the bag.”
The West Side Democrat said Wednesday that he would prefer the governor to act through an executive order rather than wait for the Legislature to convene.
“I think it’s important to have us back in Springfield to work, but the quickest relief for the problems in the state is an executive order to deal with the problems,” Ford said in a statement. “The legislative process becomes political, and it’s hard to get things passed.”