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Senate President Don Harmon talks to reporters

Sunday, May 24, 2020

[Comments are now open on this post.]

* How do you think the session went?

I think it went remarkably well. We were very worried about the risks, but I was proud of how our members did observe social distancing. But most importantly how everyone wore face coverings, which allowed us to do our work together in the chamber. I think we we got through this all right and provef that we can in fact legislate in this time, however challenging it might be.

Um, not really.

* Could the General Assembly have met sooner than now and why didn’t you?…

It was a real challenge to put this plan together, and the risks were significant. And I don’t think it’s something we should repeat frequently, given the uncertainty. I’m glad we were able to compress it into four days and get all of our work done. And as we learn more about this virus we’ll be able to figure out a plan to protect ourselves, our staff and our families and still do our jobs.

Please remember to pardon all transcription errors.

* Was it responsible to put together a budget with so much borrowing? The Rauner administration, for example, had a $4 billion hole for the grand bargain…

There is so much we don’t know today that we hope to know in a few months. We don’t know the depths of the economic hit we’ve taken from this virus. We don’t know how much more we’re going to have to spend in order to respond to it. We don’t know whether the voters are going to approve a constitutional amendment in November. We don’t know how the federal government is going to respond, although I believe that they will. And we don’t know who is going to be in charge in Washington for the next four years. In the next several months, we’re going to know all of that, and that will give us much better information about how to put together a durable state budget

* The decision to meet by Zoom of the entire General Assembly failed in the House. Your thoughts on that?…

My pressing need was to make sure that when we met here, those members who had peculiar or particular issues that would prevent them from being here could still participate. The people they represent are entitled to be represented, and the Senate rules we adopted tonight will make that possible.

* The cannabis cleanup bill… what happened there?…

The Senate passed it twice. I don’t know what happened in the House. I’ve been focused on our work over here.

* How do you think your colleagues would characterize how you steered the chamber during this?…

You’ll have to ask them. My goal has been to make sure that our members had all the information that I had, so that they could understand and respond with me. I am incredibly grateful for the teamwork that our caucus showed. People came together after a contentious Senate President’s election. We all put those rough edges to the side and focused on representing the people that sent us here to Springfield, and I’m really proud. My Majority Leader Kimberly LIghtfortd really stepped up and helped us get through this. The whole leadership team and every member of the Senate Democratic and Republican found a way to contribute.

* On cooperation with the governor…

We’ve been doing a lot of phone calls of late, But he’s been a good partner, and I can’t imagine facing this pandemic without him or with any of any other governor.

* Why not take a vote on the governor’s Restore Illinois plan?…

Because it’s not a legislative measure. I’m not entirely sure what that question is, so I’m sorry.

* Why was no legislation passed to provide an alternative to the governor’s emergency IDPH rule?…

We could not agree on what the appropriate measure would be. It was a compressed schedule. This all came to light on the first day of our session. We remain committed to working with the governor to find a path. We just didn’t have the bandwidth to get that done.

* Did your chamber have the votes for the remote voting bill? Would you have rather seen the FOIA provisions taken out in favor of remote voting?…

I don’t know exactly what happened in the House with that bill and how the calculus was reached. If you saw on the Senate floor, we approved Senate rules unanimously that provided for a degree of virtual participation. I’m confident we would have been able to pass that in the Senate.

* Do you think anyone in your caucus should apologize to Sen. Martwick for forcing him to travel to Springfield only to have his vote end up not mattering?…

No, it really wasn’t anything foreseeable. These are very dynamic circumstances, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am and how grateful I’m sure Mayor Lightfoot is for Rob Martwick’s incredible sacrifice to jump in a car and come to the Capitol when he had legitimate reasons for not being here. These things happen quickly and I would say that at three points along the drive I could have told him to turn around and go back, but suddenly realized I probably would need him. So no predicting until the votes are on the board.

* How do you think the legislative cost of living pay raise will play with the general public when more than 1 million Illinoisans are out of work? How can you guarantee that lawmakers will not get the COLA when there’s nothing in the BIMP that’s specifically prohibiting it?…

I thought Sen. Manar was incredibly clear on the floor in debate that there’s not a dollar in our budget appropriated to pay any cost of living adjustments for legislators.

Follow up…

Senator Steans in the floor debate was similarly as clear. The comptroller who writes the paychecks has ensured us that she will not be paying any increase in the salary based on the appropriations in the past.

* Why didn’t the legislature take up an ethics reform bill? Why did a casino expansion bill and a toll bridge for Will County pass, but not ethics reform?…

As you know, the bipartisan, bicameral Ethics Commission is doing its work. Its report has been delayed. We’re eager to get that report and to act on it. But in this special three plus one day session, we did not think we could responsibly take that up. That deserves more careful and thoughtful legislative…

* Would you consider calling a special session for ethics reform?…

Well if we’d passed the virtual session, perhaps. But I don’t think anyone is eager for us to call everyone back here. I hope everyone goes home, does another test and that we find no one has tested positive as a result of being here in session. But until then, I’m not going to predict any return to Springfield.

* As the debate went on, I saw almost every Senator… on the floor, conversing in the back, and they were rather close to one another. It didn’t seem to be, at least at this vantage point, a lot of social distancing going on. What would you say about that, when Illinoisans across the state are having to conduct themselves that way because the Department of Public Health has told them to?…

Well, if I understand the directions from the Department of Public Health correctly, we were asked to socially distance or wear face coverings. And as you saw everyone on the floor was wearing their face coverings. And I think that that the first line of defense. There was more social distancing by a longshot than there would be on a normal session day. And I’m proud of our of our colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, for observing that.

Um, not really.

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- Posted by Rich Miller        

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