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Bipartisan demand for leaders to call hearings over Pritzker’s handling of pandemic response

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Friday, November 13, 2020  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Governor (44) , Health (49) Ford, La Shawn--State House, 8 , Rezin, Sue--State Senate, 38

(The Center Square) – Two state lawmakers, a Democrat and a Republican, are pushing for joint hearings to cover the spectrum of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said eight months into the pandemic, it’s beyond time to hold hearings. They’ve sent letters to their respective legislative leaders and to the governor to hold public hearings but haven’t heard back.

“To us, it is long past time that legislators, as well as the millions of Illinois residents, get the answers we deserve,” the co-signed letter said. “We urge all of you to support a public hearing on this matter.”

“Throughout this pandemic, the legislative branch has been left out of the decision-making process and left in the dark regarding much of the data and science used to make these determinations - leaving us with more questions than answers,” the letter said.

Ford said lawmakers are closest to the people and the governor’s unilateral action on unemployment, grant dollar distribution, restaurant regulations, among other things, can’t continue without oversight.

“Everything is not about dollars, but it is about how also the government imposes rules and restrictions on the public,” Ford said.

He also raised concerns about managing hospital resources, the state of Illinois’ prisons, and more.

Rezin said letters back and forth don’t work.

“We need the ability to call a hearing to have the people come and testify so we understand better what’s going on,” Rezin said. “I think there’s value because of what we’re hearing from our constituents of having this back and forth conversation, this dialog with us.”

Rezin said because of the unknowns, the governor has been given great latitude, but it’s time to bring lawmakers into the fold.

“It’s a challenge when in the middle of the mitigation plan the governor changes the rules to completely shut down indoor dining about four weeks ago and tells us afterward,” Rezin said.

She underscored the need for public hearings on the data being used to drive public policy, and for review of how contact tracing is being implemented.

Ford said there’s a lot more knowledge about the virus now, eight months in.

“Restaurants now know how they can have a safe place, schools and coaches, and hospitals, and nursing homes, they know their needs. We need to hear from them,” Ford said. “We need to hear from them.”

“With restaurants throughout the entire state having been forced to close their doors, hindering our local economies and resulting in thousands of layoffs, it is only appropriate to provide complete transparency to business owners and the people of Illinois,” the letter said.

“It's an interesting idea that we will look into,” Senate President Don Harmon’s spokesman John Patterson said.

That’s similar to the response when asked last month, following state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, pushing for hearings.

The spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said some House members have taken part in Senate hearings. But, recent Senate hearings have been about police reforms, or equity issues, not about COVID-19 management.

"As you know GOPies voted down efforts to allow remote hearings by House committees so I think ties the hands of House committee chairs," said Steve Brown in an email response.

Other lawmakers have said they've met in-person for the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules, the Joint Legislative Audit Commission, and other hearings, without problems of spreading COVID-19.

Harmon and Madigan canceled the fall session that was supposed to start next week, citing increased COVID-19 cases.

Rezin and Ford said they have yet to hear back from legislative leaders and if hearings aren’t called, they’ll soon plan bipartisan town hall meetings to hear from taxpayers.