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State GOP Leaders Support Remote General Assembly Work Ahead Of Lame Duck Session

Dan Brady
Dan Brady of Bloomington and other Republican leaders in the House spoke to reporters Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

The Illinois House Republican leader said Monday his caucus is open to the idea of doing government work remotely as the General Assembly convenes for a lame duck session Friday.

State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said lawmakers should have mechanisms in place to work remotely as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

"If we are not going to be able to meet in person, and who knows what the future is going to be like, we should not sit idle," said Durkin.

Deputy Minority Leader Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, also said the idea should be explored further.

State Rep. Ann Williams and State Sen. Rob Martwick, both Democrats from Chicago, have introduced a bill to allow the General Assembly to do remote work in the future, even beyond the end of the pandemic.

Senate rules adopted in May already allow senators to participate in the legislative process remotely if a physical quorum of members is present. An attempt to allow virtual lawmaking in the State House failed.

Meanwhile, Brady said while the top priority of the Republican caucus is cuts to the state budget, there is still uncertainty over what sorts of bills will be discussed.

"What each committee may be scheduled for and what the subject matter and action may or may not be obviously remains undetermined at this point in time, and that's been part of the frustration that we all feel," said Brady.

The lame duck session comes amid uncertainty about whether House Speaker Michael Madigan will have the required number of votes to maintain his position in the next session of the General Assembly.

"We have five days to be productive, as opposed to thinking about how Michael Madigan can secure the votes by ... passing anything and everything to get a vote for Speaker," said Durkin.

House Deputy Minority Leader Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said it was unfortunate that ethics reforms have not been undertaken by the legislature, particularly given the ongoing federal investigation of ComEd's attempts to influence Madigan. He denies any wrongdoing in the scandal, and does not face criminal charges currently.

"You know, we find ourselves in the middle of one of the most wide-ranging and comprehensive federal criminal investigations that any state has ever been at the center of," said Demmer. "Yet, if you went to Springfield, you'd see a lot of people burying their head in the sand and pretending like that wasn't happening."

The last time state lawmakers convened for session was in late May. The traditional fall veto session was canceled because of rising COVID-19 rates in Illinois.

"This is not a situation where the Democratic majority can claim that we didn't have enough time or we're operating on some compressed schedule," said Demmer. "We've had nothing but time over the last several months."

The next General Assembly is set to be inaugurated on Jan. 13.

Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.