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Republicans demand return to Capitol, call for changes to “Restore Illinois” plan

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SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) -- Illinois House Republicans are calling for lawmakers to return to the Capitol to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Some feel Gov. JB Pritzker is running the state as a one man show, but Democratic leaders of the General Assembly are keeping them from doing anything about it. The Caucus says people want their voices heard when it comes to reopening the state. Members feel returning to work in Springfield is the best option.

House Republicans say Pritzker's stay-at-home order was the right move to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, they're not as fond of his "Restore Illinois" plan announced Tuesday. "Unfortunately, the governor's plan fails to recognize that local officials throughout the state want the same thing he does - a safe return from the pandemic." Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) says Pritzker's plan continues a decree by one person instead of offering local authority to people on the ground in communities. Pritzker says the earliest a region can move into Phase 3 of the plan is May 29. Phase 4 is projected to start in late June. Still, Phase 5 would only come after a COVID-19 vaccine or other treatment is widely available.

Input from stakeholders

"The science can't definitively tell us when it's safe to move from one step to another step. There's a lot of complexity that comes into establishing these multi-faceted plans," said Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon). "And when we have that level of complexity, we need to have input from a wide variety of stakeholders to try to make the best decisions possible." The caucus says they cannot accept a plan that could "destroy most of the businesses in the state."

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) is specifically worried about the hospitality sector. He says their employees account for 10% of Illinois' workforce. "But since this past March, 321,000 of those employees in those restaurants and bar-restaurants have been laid off or furloughed," Durkin explained.

He says the governor's plan could force bankruptcy and permanent closure of restaurants, large and small. Durkin believes "Restore Illinois" presumes Pritzker will rule the state for several months and possibly much longer if a vaccination isn't available. "I took an oath of office to faithfully discharge my duties in the coequal branch of government called the legislature. I did not abdicate not relinquish my elected responsibilities to the Executive Branch," Durkin said.

"Frequently reaching out"

Pritzker was quick to toss water on Durkin's assertion that he is solely dictating Illinois government. "I have talked to the leaders on the Republican side, many Republican legislators," Pritzker said Wednesday afternoon. "I'm frequently reaching out, listening to them. I take a lot of notes and I've done a lot of the things that they've asked."

The governor says lawmakers still have plenty to do while they work remotely. Both chambers have bipartisan working groups holding virtual meetings on Zoom. "So they're doing exactly what I think they would be doing if they were in session having committee meetings, and they absolutely have the ability to get together in session."

"Get your head out of the sand"

The caucus says immediate relief for businesses will be a top priority when they return to Springfield. However, the decision is up to Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon. "Mr. Speaker and the House Democrats, get back into the game," Durkin exclaimed. "Get your head out of the sand, and let's go back to work."

Speaker Madigan responded to the Republicans Wednesday afternoon. "While the governor's actions have reduced the curve and saved lives, it's clear that Illinois is not out of the woods," stated Madigan. "Just yesterday, Illinois saw an all-time high in deaths, and it was recently announced that another 136 people died today." The Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting 68,232 COVID-19 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths as of Wednesday. "While I am eager to see a return to normalcy, we are talking about people's lives, and any plan to return to Springfield must have the health and safety of all those involved as a top priority, including the communities the members represent," Madigan stated.

However, Republicans say their constituents can't wait forever. "Those looking to get back to work cannot wait months or years with no certainty. I have already heard from countless business owners in my district that if the governor's plan continues, they won't be able to reopen whenever the time comes for the governor to allow it," Brady said.

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Mike Miletich

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