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House Speaker Welch promises oversight of executive branch amid COVID-19 restrictions

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Thursday, January 21, 2021  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Governor (44) , Health (49) Crespo, Fred--State House, 44 , Marron, Mike--State House, 104 , Welch, Emanuel "Chris"--State House, 7 , Wilhour, Blaine--State House, 107 , Zalewski, Michael--State House, 23

(The Center Square) – The Illinois House, led by a new House Speaker, will provide oversight of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's handling of the state's COVID-19 response, something welcomed by members of both parties that haven’t seen much of that over the past year.

Last week, state Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said for months he and others have grown frustrated with the lack of cooperation with the Pritzker administration on things like the unemployment backlog and fraud.

“But I think if you speak to either our Republican colleagues or our Democratic colleagues, we’re asking for the same thing and we’re not getting that information,” Crespo said.

State Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian, said the legislature has failed to hold the Pritzker administration accountable on not just problems with unemployment, but also with the backlog in Firearm Owner Identification Card applications.

“I think you’re seeing a disturbing pattern here with a lot of the administration where the FOID card is just another example of where the governor has failed,” Marron said.

One avenue Crespo suggested to get information from the Pritzker administration was withholding money from agencies in order to get answers.

Crespo was reportedly helpful in generating support among Democrats for new Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, who last week took over for state Rep. Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. Madigan had served as House Speaker for all but two years since 1983.

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, has for months decried the governor’s unilateral authority and said Democrats failed to speak up under Madigan.

“I think that Speaker Welch has said specifically that it’s his intention for the legislature to be a check on the executive branch and I welcome that with open arms,” Wilhour said.

Welch last week indicated he plans to provide a check on the Pritzker administration.

“The legislature is going to be a check on the executive branch,” Welch told political blogger Rich Miller.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Hillside, said he’ll seek more leeway from Welch for legislative committees.

“Maybe we give committee chairs a little more ability to control silos of policy and I think he’ll be receptive to that,” Zalewski said.

Under Madigan most of last year, House committees didn’t provide oversight on the Pritzker administration’s handling of COVID-19 with the exception of hearings about an outbreak at a home for veterans.

The House is back on Feb. 2.