COVID-19 was both in the forefront and in the background during the abbreviated spring legislative session that Illinois lawmakers wrapped over the weekend. It was the focus of both the legislation and the politics in Springfield.
The pandemic destroyed the state’s economy, and in turn government spending.
“But this virus has blasted a hole for estimated incoming revenue, not for just Illinois, but 50 states across the nation," said Governor J.B. Pritzker
The legislature in turn will give the Governor more authority in moving money within the state budget. The entire budget though, is only a semi-normal one due to the federal government. The state will borrow up to $5 billion from the Fed to prop up the spending plan, and to account for assistance all over the place for COVID-19 relief.
“Because this is the moment government is here for. In a moment when our workers and businesses struggle to get back on track, we have to ensure our governments are there to back them up," Pritzker said.
When the legislature started on Wednesday, there were protests outside the Bank of Springfield Center of people unhappy with the Governor’s stay-at-home restrictions. The protesters marched from the BoS Center, where the House was meeting, to the State Capitol where Senators met, all part of social distancing safety measures state lawmakers adopted.
One downstate lawmaker, Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) was kicked out of the House the first day for failing to wear a protective mask, but when the protesters left town for the most part, Bailey returned wearing safety protection.
A lot of the legislation state lawmakers took up during the special session highlighted COVID-19, with plans to direct money to communities outside Chicago as larger areas were direct recipients of federal aid. Representative Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said he wants to see COVID-19 relief.
“To make sure we accommodate as many COVID expenses as possible for those local units of government and retain important public safety jobs for those communities is critical”, he said.
Observers would hear the virus as partial justification for an expanded vote-by-mail legislation.
“We’re trying to assist in keeping public health impacts of COVID low. Lower than they would be than if they gathered at polling places to vote” said Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park).
COVID-19 was the reason lawmakers eased liquor restrictions for a year to help struggling bars serve booze curbside, although brew-pubs were left out of the legislation.
The pandemic also spurred political arguments, such as those protests. West suburban lawmaker Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) said the minority party was left out of any discussion on trying to get Illinois opened sooner:
“If you think we need to chuck the people’s rights… don’t hide from it, don’t run from it, debate it.” she said during floor debate on budget legislation.
But the Democratic controlled legislature stayed away from that debate. They also stayed away from spelling out authority for the governor to fine businesses that violated COVID health regulations, unwilling to put themselves on record of supporting fines on businesses.
And when the House passed the spending plan, Democratic House majority leader Greg Harris said 100’s of millions of dollars will go to those affected by COVID:
“To save people from foreclosure in their homes to save people from eviction when they can’t pay their rent to assist people with mental health service to put PPE in nursing homes… and to give enough hazard pay that their workers can show up.
The legislature is not set to return to the State Capitol until fall. At that time, they will examine the further impacts of COVID-19 on the budget and try to repair some of the damage the virus caused.