Capitol Rotunda nearly empty

The Capitol Rotunda is nearly empty Friday as lawmakers are not at the Statehouse and large gatherings are disallowed there out of concern about the spread of coronavirus disease, COVID-19. 

Need for policy action, public safety at play as leaders mull path forward

SPRINGFIELD — Next week’s legislative session is canceled, and, like nearly all routines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear when its schedule will return to normalcy.

Jessica Basham, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael Madigan, reiterated in an email to state representatives Wednesday that the House’s session schedule remains “in flux” and lawmakers “should be prepared to return to Springfield to address urgent matters.”

“Generally, members should be re-evaluating any and all travel plans, including those made for the weeks of April 5 and April 12 (the legislative spring break),” she said in the email. “This is not only due to the need to practice social distancing to safeguard the health of our communities, but also due to the possible need to return to Springfield for session during that time period.”

The Senate on Wednesday distributed a letter canceling its legislative session next week as well, with a tentative return date set for Tuesday, March 31.

Deadlines for moving legislation in each chamber have been extended as well.  

In his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday in Murphysboro, Gov. JB Pritzker said it would be up to the legislative leaders to decide when session will occur, and he noted “things have evolved rapidly.”

He said session brings not just the 177 lawmakers in the state to the Capitol, but staff, lobbyists and others as well.

“And that's a gathering that is suggested not to happen according to all the guidelines and of course the order that I gave here in Illinois,” he said.

One of the state’s most pressing issues is the approval of an operating budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.  The General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment date is May 31. Anything approved after that point would require a three-fifths majority vote to take effect this calendar year.

There are other time-sensitive bills before the General Assembly as well, including a hospital assessment bill that impacts $3.5 billion in federal funding. But it is unclear when lawmakers will be able to get to them and which other measures might move to the top of negotiations when they do return.

“I will leave that up to the Senate president, the minority leader of the Senate, the speaker and the minority leader of the House,” Pritzker said of when lawmakers will return. “As to the question of whether I would call a special session, I think, again, we need to make sure that we're doing this in a way that's healthy and safe.”