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Public participation limited as Illinois Legislature continues COVID-19 protocols


Tuesday, January 26, 2021  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Legislature (56) Ford, La Shawn--State House, 8 , McConchie, Dan--State Senate, 26 , Reick, Steven--State House, 63 , Welch, Emanuel "Chris"--State House, 7
(The Center Square) – Illinois state lawmakers are expected back in Springfield next week, and some in the House are looking to ditch their temporary digs and get back to the capitol building. 

Others are looking to allow remote voting so the legislature can get back to work.

Public interest groups say the public should have the same access they had before the pandemic.

It cost taxpayers an extra $330,000 for the House to hold session last spring and earlier this month at a convention center in Springfield because of COVID-19 concerns.

State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said that’s “300,000 bucks that we don’t have.”

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said he’s ready to get back to work in Springfield, or remotely.

“We’ve got a map that we have to vote on, we have a budget that we have to craft, and we have to make sure that we are able to pay the bills for our social service agencies,” Ford said.

Ford said House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, is in a tough spot.

“He has members wanting to come back, and members saying it’s too risky for their loved ones who are at risk of catching COVID,” Ford said.

Welch told a political blog he expects the House will remain in the convention center off-site for “a little while” before transitioning back to the capitol.

“The Senate has been able to meet in the capitol building and I don’t see any reason why we can’t exercise some social distancing,” Reick said.

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said other states are getting mostly back to normal with in-person legislating and Illinois should too.

“The public, in general, should be available,” McConchie said. “They need to have access to their elected representatives in a manner that’s more than just having a constituent email.”

Reform For Illinois, a nonprofit government transparency advocate, said: “The public should have the same access to all hearings it would have had without the pandemic.”

“So much of the legislative process is about backroom deals that the public never gets to see,” said Alisa Kaplan of Reform For Illinois. “Public hearings are one of the few opportunities to bring that process into the sunlight. And participating in those hearings is an essential way for citizens and groups like ours to have a public voice in that process, a voice that everyone can hear.”

Kaplan advocated for allowing for remote voting, saying without it things are “so unpredictable,” making it difficult to effectively advocate.

“While we still plan to push hard for our goals including ethics reform and election reform, there's no doubt that the uncertainty and the current protocols will make it harder for us to do so,” Kaplan said.