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*** UPDATED x3 *** It’s probably time to start thinking about remote legislating

Wednesday, Mar 11, 2020

* Stateline

Many other state legislatures are scheduled to continue their sessions in the months ahead, even as the disease is expected to spread throughout the country.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), lawmakers in Oregon and Wisconsin can hold electronic meetings and votes in an emergency, and Colorado’s legislature allows for “new or streamlined methods of operations” and may suspend rules in order to “function effectively during the disaster emergency.”

NCSL wasn’t sure about other states, and said it was still compiling information related to continuity of government during public health emergencies.

Some local officials are asking similar questions. Paul Feiner, town supervisor in Greenburgh, New York, recently asked the New York legislature to amend state meetings law to allow local governments to vote by Skype.

Thoughts?

…Adding… This just went out to legislators…

With the health and safety of all in mind, the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians regrets to inform all members of the 101st General Assembly and staff that our evening reception scheduled for Wednesday, March 18 has been cancelled due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

*** UPDATE 1 *** Kyle Hillman at the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter…

The NASW-Illinois Chapter (NASW-IL) has been closely following news and updates regarding the COVID-19 virus (coronavirus), particularly as it impacts large gatherings and events in the state.

After much consideration and the wavering levels of uncertainty around COVID-19 spreading in Illinois, as well as the many health risks involved in holding large events like our advocacy day which has consistently passed 1000 attendees, the NASW-Illinois Chapter has decided to cancel our 2020 Advocacy Day on Thursday, April 2, 2020, and the lobby leaders training the previous day on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

While we are hopefully being overly cautious regarding this decision, we have reached a point where we could no longer wait to let participants know if the event would continue or not.

We will be developing and suggesting alternatives to the event—these may include encouraging participants to participate in online action alerts, or additional online actions regarding current evolving NASW-IL–supported legislation.

Again, it was not an easy decision to cancel our most effective advocacy event of the year, but the health and safety of the hundreds of workers in the state capital, all participants, and the populations they serve is paramount.

*** UPDATE 2 *** Hannah…


*** UPDATE 3 *** I asked Rep. Deb Conroy if she will cancel her House Mental Health Committee hearing scheduled for later this week…

Yes I am canceling the hearing on Friday. While access to ABA therapy for autism is of great importance a public subject matter hearing at this time is not appropriate. The health and safety of all of our communities must be are focus.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

43 Comments
  1. - Michelle Flaherty - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:34 am:

    Skillicorn was simply ahead of his time.


  2. - NIref - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:35 am:

    Absolutely not. Cancel session instead. The value of the legislature is direct deliberative democracy, something that simply cannot be replaced with a screen.


  3. - Not a Billionaire - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:35 am:

    How about our Universities?
    Any Sentinel results?


  4. - Eire17 - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:39 am:

    No way they have session next week


  5. - Montrose - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:39 am:

    “Absolutely not. Cancel session instead. The value of the legislature is direct deliberative democracy, something that simply cannot be replaced with a screen.”

    I would agree online legislating isn’t as good, but I think an all or nothing approach a bit much.


  6. - efudd - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:43 am:

    “Skillicorn was simply ahead of his time”

    I don’t put it past him to spin that into a mailer.


  7. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:43 am:

    We are a 21st century, first world country and state.

    It’s smart and wise to consider this, given the challenges we all are facing and the need and necessity of a functioning government that can function because we as a state have the means and technology to do so.

    This is also a temporary situation, there is not a call to change the function of governing going forward.

    Look into it, then assess.


  8. - Cassie - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:43 am:

    Postpone session (and any deadlines) until after the spring recess. For any emergency legislation (maybe a budget, if things get to that), have a special remote-vote protocol. But for everything else, if it is even necessary, go into a special session over the summer.

    All state workers who can should be working remotely, too. That protects them, the general population, but also state workers who *cannot* work remotely because it’s lowering the concentration of people in one place.

    Now is the time. Waiting until someone at the Capitol or Thompson Center is diagnosed is too late. They would have been exposing others for days.


  9. - Just Me 2 - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:43 am:

    If the G.A. focused on only the bills that were crucial, they could get it all done in a couple weeks. The problem is all the lobsters who complain their bills are too important to wait.


  10. - Ok - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:46 am:

    They can vote from inside their offices like they already do. But probably not from home.


  11. - Rich Hill - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:51 am:

    ==Skillicorn was simply ahead of his time.==

    Rod Blagojevich was a pioneer.


  12. - Interested observer - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:55 am:

    Pass a budget, go home, and be safe.


  13. - JoanP - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:59 am:

    I would generally favor allowing electronic meetings in an emergency.

    However:

    1. “Emergency” needs to be strictly defined.
    2. Controls need to be in place to ensure that members who vote are actually “present”
    3. (And this may be hard) - figure out how to comply with the Open Meetings Act.


  14. - Moe Berg - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:00 am:

    Lead by example. In times of crisis, citizens look for direction from elected officials. The feds are AWOL.

    Unless GA leaders can articulate a very good reason why the legislature needs to be in session - I can’t think of one - at least cancel the next couple of weeks and then reassess as the situation develops.

    Also, look at all the companies that are cancelling meetings, forbidding employee travel and requiring work from home. Those are not decisions made lightly.


  15. - BigLou - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:02 am:

    It would be fun to see how Lobbyists would have to conduct business


  16. - McGuppin - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:04 am:

    The prudent thing to do is to pass the budget in short order and send folks home. If the state is serious about preaching precaution then they should lead by example.


  17. - Bad Precedent - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:05 am:

    Not sure how conducting business remotely could be construed as a public meeting in which official actions can occur and withstand legal scrutiny.


  18. - thoughts matter - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:05 am:

    So, let the 177 legislators and their staff work from home rather than just close the Capitol Complex to visitors. What about the rest of the thousands of people that work at the Capitol complex, IDOT, the Thompson center… the facilities? Seems to me the real danger is to the staff that work with the public.


  19. - Robert the Bruce - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:07 am:

    Yes, go remote. Legislators shake more hands than most anyone else.


  20. - The Bashful Raconteur - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:08 am:

    Postpone session or simply pass major bills - budget, appropriations, BIMP and end session early. Don’t care for electronic remote legislative action. Way too many problems with that. If virus stops spreading and comes under control, call special session to handle other significant matters.


  21. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:09 am:

    “figure out how to comply with the Open Meetings Act.” There are video conferences every day that comply with the OMA.


  22. - fs - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:10 am:

    The only thing that pushes any final substantive decision making are procedural deadlines. Those can be changed, and they have almost three months bandwidth to adjust them. Should be a no brained.


  23. - fs - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:14 am:

    == It would be fun to see how Lobbyists would have to conduct business==

    The same place they always do: the bar


  24. - thinking ahead - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:14 am:

    They could meet in a V E R Y L A R G E space, like the bos center in Springfield, or similar venue.

    #SocialDistancing whenever possible should be everyone’s goal.

    It is proven to slow the spread, and potentially relieves pressure on the critical care resources in the State.


  25. - Anyone Remember - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:17 am:

    Both bodies should meet in person the last 2 weeks-ish for floor votes, SOTU, Budget Address, etc. However, committee work should be done remotely. If legislators are back in their districts during that phase of the legislative process, they’re closer to voters, farther from lobbyists, eliminating one of the arguments for term limits.


  26. - Steve - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:24 am:

    I think it’s an excellent idea. The health and safety of those involved in legislation be given first priority. It might even encourage more people who don’t want to go to Springfield to get involved.


  27. - Uncharted Territory - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:25 am:

    From the Illinois Constitution:

    Sessions of each house of the General Assembly and
    meetings of committees, joint committees and legislative commissions shall be open to the public. Sessions and committee meetings of a house may be closed to the public if two-thirds of the members elected to that house determine
    that the public interest so requires; and meetings of joint committees and legislative commissions may be so closed if two-thirds of the members elected to each house so determine.
    (Source: Illinois Constitution.)


  28. - Say What? - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:29 am:

    Perhaps a blessing in disguise. The amount of idle/wasted time in the ILGA is legendary. This may shine a bright light on the dynamic of the days scheduled well ahead of deadlines are largely meaningless.

    The trains running efficiently and on time is not even an afterthought in the current context.


  29. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:31 am:

    ==- Give Me A Break - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 9:41 am:==

    You are mistaken and spreading false information.

    http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/conent.htm


  30. - Norseman - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:33 am:

    No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.

    Questionable authorship

    While I’d jokingly say close it down for the sake of the people, we need appropriations and a few bills to address pressing issues.

    I don’t see how they can do everything remotely now and ensure the integrity and transparency demanded by the public and our laws. They should be preparing for that contingency in the future, but it’s not there now IMHO.

    The leaders should get together and decide on those issues that are of critical importance to the operation of government, not of critical political importance. These would be expedited with other steps taken to minimize exposure. Fever screening at the security screening areas should be considered.


  31. - Occasional Quipper - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:37 am:

    I say skip March and April and see what it looks like in May or June. That will allow time to see if this virus behaves like other flu viruses, and if it does we’ll be past cold and flu season by then.


  32. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:38 am:

    I agree, consider it. Health and safety first. This is a new viral epidemic and we can’t be irresponsible or underestimate what can happen. Success depends on being proactive.


  33. - 61822 - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:41 am:

    At least with university committees subject to OMA, we’re being told that there has to be an in-person quorum in order to conduct business, but after that people can attend remotely.


  34. - Donnie - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:41 am:

    What about the state employees? Many work with the public, handle documents, money, ect. My concern isn’t the legislature. If it gets bad enough for them, it’s bad enough for everyone


  35. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:46 am:

    As long as they don’t have to use their telephones for conferences, lobbying or individual discussions.
    Many of our G.A. members are, with good reason, hesitant to use this phones.


  36. - Dancin' Bears - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:54 am:

    The “remote work” idea seems great, but Illinois does not exactly have a great track record on being ahead of the curve in regards to technology (anyone look at the DNR’s website lately?). The logistics of holding video conference meetings and also allowing the public/lobbyists to testify remotely would be a massive undertaking, and I seriously doubt we have the appropriate equipment or expertise to pull off something that big.

    My vote: Cancel the next 2 weeks, reevaluate the situation, and if need be hold a special session to pass a budget to ensure operations continue.


  37. - Archpundit - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:58 am:

    ===The logistics of holding video conference meetings

    It’s far simpler than it used to be. Zoom and some other providers make it very easy. I do wonder whether those companies may become overloaded though with schools going temporary online.


  38. - muon - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 10:58 am:

    The natural first step is to use remote participation for legislative committees. Remote participation is already used on state task forces to link Chicago, Springfield, and any other necessary participants. Public comment can be made available through the online technology with controls operated through the chairperson. For members of the public who wish to present direct testimony, a fixed link at Chicago or Springfield can be available, as it is for public comments to task forces.

    If the tech works for legislative committees, one can think about how it might scale to the full chamber. I’d be reluctant to go full chamber without the small scale tests first. Session cancellation/postponement would be preferred until the tech is established.


  39. - A Guy - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 11:13 am:

    Adhere to the old adage:
    Better Safe than Sorry…
    Redefine Safe daily.


  40. - Howard - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 11:57 am:

    Wait until they start remote fundraising


  41. - Rutro - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 12:11 pm:

    You mean Madigan would have to use a phone or computer?


  42. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 1:11 pm:

    There are almost 90,000 government bodies in the United States.

    We do not have enough journalists to keep tabs on them adequately and there is often not enough participation to keep tabs on all of them, but I think passing a law making an online meeting via Skype, et al, would have a horrific impact of making it possible for our public bodies to meet privately and would create new opportunities for elected officials to shield themselves from scrutiny and accountability.


  43. - JustaThought - Wednesday, Mar 11, 20 @ 1:38 pm:

    In Illinois it is my understanding that all public bodies subject to OMA must provide an opportunity for members of the public to address public officials at open meetings. Not sure how it works in New York, but if similar it’s important to address the other half of the equation. If rules are changed to allow all local electeds to participate by electronic means during a meeting, how will public comment be addressed.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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