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New remote legislating bill unveiled

Monday, Dec 21, 2020

* Press release…

Today, Illinois legislators filed legislation to allow the Illinois General Assembly to meet, conduct legislative business and vote remotely in the event of a pandemic or other emergency which renders it dangerous or impossible to meet in person.

“In March, we had no idea a pandemic would sweep the globe, bringing life as we know it to a halt,” said Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago), chief sponsor of the bill in the House. “While we were able to meet for a few days in May to conduct urgent business, we continue to face a crisis of epic proportions – both on the public health front and in terms of our budget situation - that requires legislative attention.”

Sen. Rob Martwick, (D-Chicago), chief sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, drove to Springfield to meet in person for the May session despite a preexisting condition which put his health particularly at risk.

“The Governor has emergency powers to secure the health of our state,” said Martwick. “However, it is the legislature’s responsibility to enact the long term policies, in accordance with the needs of our unique and diverse constituencies, which will chart the path forward as we recover from this pandemic.”

Earlier this year, the Illinois Senate adopted rules to permit legislators to participate remotely as long as a physical quorum is present, as well as provide for virtual committee hearings. A bill to permit virtual lawmaking failed by one vote in the House during the May legislative session, the last time the Illinois General Assembly met.

“The intent of the legislation is to provide for the very rare circumstances where it is extremely dangerous or impossible to meet.” said Williams. “It’s clear that the Legislature operates most effectively in person, when we can all meet and interact with each other more easily.”

Williams and Martwick consider this legislation to be a starting point for discussion, and plan to solicit the input of colleagues on both sides of the aisle as to how best to proceed.

“This impacts each of us, our families and our communities,” said Martwick. “It’s critical we develop an approach which makes sense, can be implemented easily and will work for all of us.”

The Illinois bill provides that if a joint proclamation is made by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate, members of the Illinois General Assembly may participate remotely in session and in committee - and requires the House and the Senate to adopt rules to permit such participation. Remote participation is defined as simultaneous, interactive participation by members not physically present. The bill also permits a quorum to be present remotely - thus allowing all members to participate remotely. Importantly, the bill contains an explicit provision to ensure that members of the public can view such sessions and committee meetings in real time.

“Unfortunately, if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that anything can happen and we must be ready,” said Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), cosponsor of the legislation. “We need to be prepared not just to address the current situation, but for any other emergency which may arise in the future. It is the responsible thing to do.”

“We owe a duty to the people of Illinois to do our jobs and address these critical issues now; we can’t afford to wait the pandemic out to take action,” said Terra Costa Howard (D-Glen Ellyn), cosponsor of the legislation.

State legislatures around the country have taken various approaches to meeting during the pandemic – including convening outside, utilizing hybrid sessions of in-person and virtual hearings, meeting completely remotely, and instituting safety precautions and protocols. Since the beginning of 2020, in 24 states, at least one chamber has adopted legislation allowing for remote meetings, voting, and operations, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Most of the provisions can only be utilized in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Two states, Oregon and Wisconsin, already had laws in place to allow virtual meetings prior to 2020.

“It has been over 200 days since the Illinois Legislature has met, even as we continue to face the most significant crisis in generations,” said Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), cosponsor of the legislation. “It is an abdication of our responsibility not to find a way to make it work. A majority of states have taken action - it’s time for Illinois to follow suit.”

“It is long overdue for the House to be able to remotely hold hearings and pass legislation, following the example set by our colleagues in the Senate earlier this year,” said Rep. Yoni Pizer (D-Chicago). “Under extraordinary circumstances, it is critical that we do what we were elected to do - make important decisions and respond to the needs of our constituents. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be such a circumstance.”

“When I voted yes for a remote legislating bill in May that failed to pass, I knew that a second effort was necessary to ensure that we have the ability to conduct legislative business even when being physically together in Springfield isn’t safe,” said Rep. John Connor (D-Lockport). “It’s the 21st century, and we have the technology to let us work remotely while maintaining public access, so let’s pass this bill and give ourselves the framework to do that work.”

* Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) led the charge against the remote legislating bill in May. I asked him to comment…

Representative Williams and I have been discussing this issue since the spring session adjourned. The fact that the House has not met, and has only had one hearing outside of the Special Investigating Committee, is an indictment of the years of lack of planning for continuity of government. The ability to meet, and especially vote, remotely must be subject to a very high bar. It must respect the ability of the public to fully participate, as well as involve the minority party to ensure all Members have input in this decision. There are technology and decorum issues that must be part of an agreement. My deep-held preference is that the Assembly does “assemble” in person at the seat of government. Yet, I also know we have much work to do and if that means some Members may be doing this work remotely, then we can at least get on with the work of the General Assembly. I look forward to working with both Rep. Williams and Sen. Martwick to find the path forward.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

17 Comments
  1. - 47th Ward - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 10:55 am:

    Does anyone have a translation for Butler’s quote? There were a lot of words but I couldn’t quite understand what he was trying to say.

    Lead, follow or get out of the way Rep. Butler.


  2. - The Dude - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 10:58 am:

    “pandemic or other emergency which renders it dangerous or impossible to meet in person.”

    Thats the justification for it starting but then it trickles from there. Next thing you know it’s too dangerous for politicians to come during flu season. Then its too dangerous to drive so we can’t assemble unless remotely.

    Its a slippery slope. Im expected to come in for my job as it can’t be completely worked from home. They should too. Its a civic duty and they need to toughen up and get to their duty(which can be done safely without full remote).

    Make it safe through engineering, administrative, and PPE controls and get them here to work.


  3. - The Doc - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 11:04 am:

    ==Then its too dangerous to drive so we can’t assemble unless remotely==

    Calm down. We’re in a state of emergency. Maybe take a breath before ranting about toughness and other such nonsense.


  4. - Annoin' - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 11:14 am:

    Surprised Butler was found to comment. We think the translation is “pay no attention to my bone head move in May. I will try to blame this on a lack of planning” Failed.


  5. - Bruce( no not him) - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 11:27 am:

    6 months late, but hey it’s something.


  6. - JB13 - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 11:49 am:

    “Pay no attention to my bone head move in May. I will try to blame this on a lack of planning”

    We’re continuing with the fantasy that the Republicans in the General Assembly can stop important and needed things from happening? OK, cool.


  7. - Take a Closer Look - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 12:01 pm:

    We should take a closer look at what just happened in DC. All members of Congress were vaccinated over the weekend for continuity of government. Members of state legislatures should too so they can go to work. The remote legislation should pass to keep remote activity to a minimum. How do republicans continue to insist on meeting in person, but no one is advocating for legislators to get vaccinated?


  8. - thisjustinagain - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 12:02 pm:

    In Emergency Management, this falls under “Continuity of Government”, to ensure that no matter what, ALL branches of government continue to preform their duties. This does not mean it is perfect, but essential work will go on. Illinois managed to fumble the ball on this issue months ago, but they need to get something in place anyway, because “it can’t happen here” is first on the list of Famous Last Words.


  9. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 12:03 pm:

    “Does anyone have a translation for Butler’s quote?”

    Translation: I guess I screwed up. Meeting remotely is better than not meeting at all.

    Crowd: WELL, DUHHHHH


  10. - Roman - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 12:06 pm:

    The senate’s remote voting rule requires a quorum of senators to be physically present in committee or on the chamber floor before remote voting can take place. That seems like a compromise Butler should embrace. It preserves Springfield’s seat-of-government status but makes social distancing a heck of a lot easier with only half the members present.


  11. - Huh? - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 12:10 pm:

    If this passes, it would require Madigan to use a computer to participate.

    Think on that tidbit.

    Someone famous for not having a cellphone or use a computer has to use one to be Speaker.


  12. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 12:30 pm:

    Don’t sell the Thompson Center–make it the capitol in a new capital city.


  13. - Wondering - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 1:21 pm:

    Didn’t Madigan use a computer for his endorsement session with the House Black Caucus?


  14. - Loop Lady - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 3:20 pm:

    Thank you and it’s about time…
    They all have a huge job ahead…

    As do the citizens of the State…


  15. - Really - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 4:24 pm:

    About time. Many of the rest of us manage to work. Now the real trick is to see if they can accomplish anything.


  16. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 7:35 pm:

    I don’t have a take to the good or the bad, or even the essence of the bill itself.

    They need to figure out how to work, they need to be able to safely function as a body.

    This begins that, and for that I’m pleased.


  17. - Chatham Resident - Monday, Dec 21, 20 @ 8:14 pm:

    ==Didn’t Madigan use a computer for his endorsement session with the House Black Caucus?==

    Maybe Shirley or even Lisa let him borrow their computers for that meeting.


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