EYE ON ILLINOIS: Public hearing on virus data would be good government and good politics

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Voting ended and coronavirus didn’t disappear. Infections and death totals mount, schools struggle with balancing safety and student experience while businesses and workers face indefinite income uncertainty.

One week from today, lawmakers return to Springfield to open the fall veto session. Illinois has no fewer problems than when the General Assembly adjourned in early June. The interceding months included several important hearings illuminating many systemic challenges that must be addressed legislatively in order for true progress.

Yet it’s difficult to envision any Statehouse conversations next week that won’t at the least be tinted with debate over Gov. JB Pritzker’s pandemic response.

New Senate Deputy Minority Leader Sue Rezin, of Morris, is one of many Republicans to continually called on Pritzker to involve lawmakers in the process of determining the best course of action, the most recent salvo being a Nov. 6 letter urging him to support a General Assembly public hearing on COVID-19 rules.

“The current mitigations in place across the entire state single out our hospitality industry, despite local health departments saying that restaurants account for very few outbreaks,” Rezin wrote. “It is only appropriate that business owners and the people of Illinois are provided with complete transparency.”

A week earlier, Rezin challenged Pritzker on abandoning a mitigation tier allowing restaurants to operate at a reduced capacity in favor of shutting down indoor service altogether. She’s far from the only Republican raising these concerns, and although lawsuits challenging Pritzker’s emergency powers have largely faltered, it seems likely the politics of this moment are going to overwhelm the legality.

What incentive do legislative Republicans have to work with Pritzker on anything? Their side prevailed on the graduated income tax referendum, booted the most veteran Democrat off the state Supreme Court and prevented another from claiming a seat. Their loudest supporters have “Pritzker Sucks” signs outside their homes and businesses, call him a dictator and demand a revolt (or a secession, a threat that warrants its own analysis).

On Friday Pritzker and the state health department emphasized the importance of contact tracing, releasing data classifying potential exposure locations in all 11 coronavirus regions. The numbers are interesting, though inconclusive: “other” leads the statewide pie chart at 11.6% (my speculation blames this vagueness on people who don’t comply with tracing efforts).

Those numbers are just a start. Pritzker owes lawmakers and taxpayers total transparency. Sunshine likely won’t disinfect his harshest critics, but in addition to being the right way to govern it would at least allow Democrats to focus on legislative priorities without facing fair questions at every turn.

Coronavirus deserves to be the main topic, but it will continue to be the only one while Pritzker defiantly denies Republicans their answers.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Region: NW Herald,Local,Region: Suburbs

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November 10, 2020 at 06:22AM

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