With the end of the COVID-19 in sight, and having let the governor micromanage the state under emergency orders, it appears the General assembly may now seriously consider authorizing itself to meet remotely.
Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) and Sen. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago) are introducing companion bills in the House and Senate to authorize remote sessions. We don’t agree with them often, but better late than never, so props to them for moving on what’s long overdue. As COVID-19 has made clear, lawmakers obviously should be able to meet remotely during emergencies. The authorization should have been in place long ago.
Currently, House sessions must be in-person and the Senate permits remote participation only if a physical quorum is present. Senate rules also allow for virtual committee hearings.
In May, the House narrowly voted down a similar proposal, as reported by Politico. Why? It seems pretty obvious that lawmakers have been perfectly happy with shirking their authority off to the governor. The regularly scheduled fall veto session was cancelled entirely.
Under the proposed bills, according to the Sun-Times, the House speaker and the president of the Senate would have to issue a joint proclamation to allow for the emergency remote session and committee meetings.
Deferring the decision to those two top lawmakers would be unfortunate because it would again allow individual lawmakers to shirk off their responsibility. Hopefully, that part of the bills will change. A majority of members in each chamber should have the power, making them more individually responsible.
Let’s also hope that the final bill mandates procedures that assure transparency, full debate and minority party participation that are at least as robust as for live sessions – hopefully, more so.