EYE ON ILLINOIS: Veto session not needed, but lawmakers have plenty of unfinished work

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There are 19 Springfield firefighters with positive COVID-19 tests and an additional 54 in quarantine, as of Thursday evening — 34% of the department — enough absences to idle two of 12 fire engines.

That’s just one capital city coronavirus metric. Another is a New York Times chart ranking the region 11 on a list of areas experiencing the fastest growth. Although a handful of other Illinois population centers rank higher, none were supposed to host 177 members of the General Assembly starting Tuesday.

The annual veto session is taking a hiatus, though, as House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon issued a joint statement Monday citing health concerns as a reason for the decision.

Republicans aren’t buying it.

“I can’t help but wonder if the cancellation has more to do with political unrest within the House Democratic caucus than it has to do with health and safety,” said Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, in a statement. “I certainly hope that’s not the case, because it would be a great injustice if Speaker Madigan has placed his political problems ahead of our ability to do the people’s work during a scheduled veto session.”

Such speculation is warranted, especially given the persistence of calls to reconvene both the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform and the House Special Investigating Committee charged with analyzing Mike Madigan’s role in Commonwealth Edison’s deferred federal prosecution agreement. Both are technically bipartisan, but Republicans have issued the loudest calls for action.

But some Democrats also wanted to convene. After leading several hearings on equity issues in recent months, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus was looking to put ideas into action through legislation.

Ultimately, if Madigan and Harmon don’t want a veto session, their chambers are idle. Those are the rules. Given there’s nothing Gov JB Pritzker vetoed to bring up for an override vote — unlike the Rauner years — it’s easy enough to argue health concerns outweigh the need to gather in person.

Yet holding that viewpoint requires looking at the state’s concerns in the narrowest possible light. Republicans have spent months demanding involvement in the administration’s coronavirus response. There’s a COVID outbreak at a state-run veterans home. The unemployment system is still failing to meet its basic obligations. The lack of federal assistance to replace state revenue lost to health mitigations threatens every public agency.

Those are just top-line concerns. Lawmakers aren’t entirely off the job, but it’s long past time for a more consistent session schedule plus established distance-meeting protocols allowing the people’s business to carry on in uncertain times.

Does Illinois need a veto session next week? No. But lawmakers have considerable unfinished work and the sooner they can start solving problems the better.

• 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.

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November 13, 2020 at 09:33AM

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