Why are lawmakers not in Springfield?

If the ongoing uncertainty about safely opening schools in August isn’t enough to drag 177 well-paid Representatives and Senators back to the Statehouse, then surely the ongoing legal battle concerning the governor’s executive authority during an unprecedented disease outbreak ought to be enough to warrant some action.

I disagree with state Rep. Darren Bailey’s decision to sue Gov. J.B. Pritzker concerting his executive orders aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois — because data shows Illinois is faring much better than similarly populous states with governors who pursued different strategies — but I am sympathetic to the Xenia Republican’s position that a governor needs to get General Assembly approval to keep using emergency powers under a disaster declaration.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act grants a governor emergency powers for only 30 days. But coronavirus is unlike a fire or natural disaster. Once a tornado dissipates or flooding subsides, the immediate danger has passed and authorities can begin strategizing remediation efforts. A pandemic is persistent. Absent proven treatment or effective vaccinations, the best anyone can do is mitigate spread of the virus and work to keep the hospital system adequately able to respond.

Under those terms, the disaster Pritzker declared in early March is still very much present. Viruses don’t care about 30-day deadlines. But that persistence is all the more reason for Pritzker to force legislators to come back to Springfield and actually figure out how the state is going to manage this problem in the long term.

Lawmakers convened near Memorial Day to approve a $40 billion budget, make changes to important gambling laws required to generate funding for capital projects and then get out of town without sufficiently addressing the ongoing health crisis or any of the lingering challenges such as underfunded pensions and a badly broken child protective services system.

Meanwhile there have been impossibly long lines at driver services facilities and rolling expiration deadlines, the state lottery had to close claims centers shortly after reopening because it didn’t properly plan for customer demand and the Illinois Department of Employment Security is crumbling under a record demand for its services.

The General Assembly can’t fix these problems independently, but neither can the executive branch — at least not without being dragged into court. Obviously lawmakers do work when they’re not in Springfield, but we’re paying more than $17 million per year for these elected officials and it doesn’t seem improper to suggest the pandemic justifies them putting in a few more hours in the same city.

Pritzker and Bailey will continue scrapping in whatever court will listen, but it won’t solve a single coronavirus problem. That requires actual work — and cooperation.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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