House Republicans agitated Thursday for a say in how Illinois reopens for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, urging majority Democrats to add it to the agenda of a long-delayed legislative session.
Rep. Mike Murphy said during a conference call with reporters that Gov. J.B. Pritzker must move away from a “one-size-fits-all approach that has been devastating to families and small businesses." He was referring to the Democratic governor's executive orders that have closed businesses and kept people in their homes, as well as his five-stage plan for reopening, called “Restore Illinois."
Lawmakers have been absent from Springfield since early March to keep from creating a COVID-19 cluster in the Capitol. Democrats who control the House and Senate on Wednesday called for the General Assembly to be convened May 20-22.
“Restore Illinois" divides the state into four regions that can independently move into phases that permit more reopening of business and social integration based on how the coronavirus affects the area. Murphy, a Springfield Republican, said the plan “doesn’t allow nearly enough direct input from local officials.”
Pritzker, resisting pressure from Republican-run neighbor states that have opened more aggressively, reiterated his preference for caution with a warning.
“I would remind people that the virus is out there,” Pritzker said in Chicago, adding that even if a state has reopened, it “doesn't mean they can't go into places and contract it."
Pritzker's administration announced 138 more deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, for a total of 3,928. An additional 3,239 have tested positive for the virus, to bring the total infected to 87,937. Many of them have recovered.
Senate Republicans joined the chorus for more discussion. Minority Leader Bill Brady released a letter he sent to Senate President Don Harmon requesting a public hearing to vet and revise “Restore Illinois.”
“While our constituents are doing their part to contain the spread of this deadly disease, they are also concerned with the economic toll this plan will have on their businesses and communities,” Brady said.
Democrats' special session proclamation lists among other issues, a plan to deal with a two-year $7 billion pandemic-induced deficit while crafting a state budget. There's no mention of changing “Restore Illinois."
Pritzker was dismissive of GOP demands. Of Brady's request, he said he and the Bloomington Republican talk frequently and that he and his staff have answered questions and provided data.
“I'm not sure what he's missing out on. It sounds like grandstanding,” Pritzker said. He didn't address the taxpayers who want the same questions answered.
Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, a Republican from Jacksonville, complained that Pritzker is misleading people into believing that the GOP wants “to just swing doors wide open.”
“We’re asking for a way to start opening the economy so that businesses can slowly and responsibly do this,” Davidsmeyer said.
Critics say central and southern Illinois are ready to move ahead now and shouldn't have to wait for Pritzker's stay-at-home order to expire May 30. Others complain that the suburbs surrounding Chicago — populous but not nearly as hard hit by COVID-19 as the city — nonetheless are lumped into the same region and therefore can't reopen sooner.
Republicans on the call seemed unmoved by Wednesday's ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court invalidating Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home order and directing him to cooperate on a plan with Republicans who control the Legislature.
Several lawsuits, including two by GOP legislators, have been filed in circuit court claiming Pritzker exceeded his power to declare a statewide emergency and impose the stay-at-home decree.
“There are business owners who have filed suit, there are suits across the state. That’s one avenue to be check on the governor’s power,” Morrisonville Republican Rep. Avery Bourne said. “We are the other avenue and we’re asking for the opportunity to be that check.”