SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois General Assembly will return to Springfield for three days next week to take up a spring session workload long delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
A letter from Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan to the House minority leader on Wednesday lays out the extraordinary measures that will govern the May 20-22 session to prevent the spread of the highly contagious and potentially lethal coronavirus. They include pre-session testing of all legislators for COVID-19.
A spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, confirmed that the Senate will gavel in at the same time.
Eschewing the traditional Capitol setting, the House will be called to order six blocks away at the Bank of Springfield Center in downtown Springfield, to take advantage of the spacious convention center floor for social distancing.
“We are all looking forward to a return to some semblance of normalcy ... but we must also recognize that these are not normal times,” Madigan wrote in his letter to Rep. Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican. “A pandemic is not swayed by our speeches, by our desire for normalcy, or by political expediency. But as we all acknowledge, social distancing and medically guided precautions have saved lives.”
The Senate, whose membership is half the House's 118 seats, will meet in the Capitol's Senate chamber, Harmon spokesman John Patterson said.
Madigan's letter did not identify an agenda, while Patterson indicated that the Senate would take up “fiscal and COVID-19-related issues.” The Legislature, which has been absent from the Statehouse since early March as the state's COVID-19 cases started to mount, was scheduled to adjourn its spring session on May 31 with a budget framework for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Budget-making can be a difficult and politically treacherous process in good times, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last month that the shuttered economy caused by the pandemic has opened a $7 billion deficit for the current and next budgets. Additionally, Pritzker on Tuesday urged the Legislature to meet “expeditiously” to consider aid packages for families and small businesses, which would be dependent on the state receiving federal reimbursement for its lost revenues.
Madigan's letter to Durkin asked that all lawmakers pledge to abide by Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines for safely congregating. In addition to pre-trip testing, they include agreeing to undergo body temperature checks upon entering the building for sessions, wearing provided face coverings whenever meeting with staff members or colleagues, avoiding outside meetings or social engagements, and undergoing another test upon returning home.
It won't be the first time lawmakers convened outside of the current Statehouse, which welcomed its first session in 1877. In recent history, the legislative chambers were undergoing renovation when then-Gov. George Ryan called a special session in the summer of 2000 to temporarily remove the state sales tax on gasoline during a price spike. Sessions were conducted in the auditorium of the Howlett Building next door to the Capitol.
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