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Illinois General Assembly Cancels Session Days — Groups Banned From Statehouse

hand sanitizer outside the governor's office suite in the Illinois State Captiol Building
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Hand sanitizer stations were distributed throughout the Capitol on March 5.

Citing concerns about coronavirus disease, the Illinois General Assembly is cancelling session for next week. Authorities are also restricting other large gatherings in the Capitol building.

A typical session day can bring thousands of people into the Statehouse: lawmakers, staff and lobbyists; busloads of kids on class trips; and hundreds of demonstrators.

State Rep. Bob Morgan, a Democrat from Deerfield, says people are “contained and confined with hundreds of other — if not thousands of other — people, at a time when that’s exactly what we should be trying to avoid.”

Morgan is a lawyer specializing in health care, and previously was general counsel at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We function and our whole existence relies on the ability of the public to access us,” Morgan said in a telephone interview. “When that exact premise is what is putting people in danger, I think we have to be very, very thoughtful about that, and take the steps necessary to keep people safe.”

“We can’t cut off access to our government and our legislators … but all of that needs to take a back seat in terms of just keeping people safe,” Morgan added.

Public health authorities say “social distancing” is one of the key ways to prevent — or at least slow — the spread of COVID-19.

“When the state association for emergency doctors cancels its Capitol visit citing public health concerns, it should give us all reason to re-examine our schedules and priorities,” Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement.

“Given the recommendations for social distancing as a safeguard to slow the spread of this virus, the Illinois Senate is going to do its part,” Harmon said.

In addition to the House and Senate canceling session on March 18-20, the Illinois secretary of state’s office, which manages the Capitol Complex, is canceling group tours, rallies, and other events.

Officials also recommended people vote by mail in the Illinois primary, which is set for March 17.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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