Week in Review for May 2, 2020

Modified stay-at-home order begins. The new order covers the month of May and will be in place until May 30. The new order put in place this week requires all individuals to wear a mask in any public place where a six-foot social distance cannot be maintained. Essential businesses and manufacturers are now required to provide face coverings to all employees who are not able to maintain social distancing of six feet from other people.

Major changes to the April order have brought relief for many segments of Illinois activity. Many forms of health care, including necessary and elective health care, are now once again being provided at clinics and hospitals. Garden centers, nurseries, and greenhouses are re-opening for business. Animal grooming services are re-opening. Other, so-called non-essential retail operations have been granted permission to fulfill telephone and online orders through curbside pick-up or home delivery. As with other places of essential social and economic activity, social distancing and masks are required.

Recreation opportunities are opening up. State parks are beginning a phased re-opening. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) has develop rules to reopen Illinois golf courses, with outings limited to twosomes and golf carts forbidden except when required for ADA reasons. Boating and fishing have been re-authorized, with no more than two people per boat.

Limited religious services with social distancing. The first stay-at-home order, promulgated in mid-March, asked Illinois places of religious worship gathering to suspend their congregational services. Compliance was high among Illinoisans of faith, despite the difficulty imposed by the order. Now for May 2020, the modified terms of the current stay-at-home order will allow for the limited resumption of some religious services and gatherings. Religious worship services must comply with social distancing requirements, with gatherings of no more than ten people.

More significant for larger places of religious worship was another feature of the May order, which specifically authorizes drive-in church services. The members of the congregation, in their motor vehicles, will be able to congregate in fellowship. The limited carve-out for some forms of religious worship followed the filing of a lawsuit against the previous stay-at-home order by the Beloved Church of Lena, in Stephenson County, Illinois, and the Thomas More Society.

Sharp increase in coronavirus testing availability for Illinoisans. The new COVID-19 technology include the capacity, in some cases, to perform rapid swabs to get the noninvasive information necessary to establish whether a person has been infected. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has posted a list of testing sites throughout the state where coronavirus tests may be obtained. Some sites only offer tests to patients who have been referred by a licensed medical practitioner. For other sites, a patient who initiates a request to be tested for COVID-19 must make an appointment ahead of time.

56,000 coronavirus cases in Illinois. On Friday, May 1, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced 3,137 new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Illinois, including 105 additional deaths.

Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 56,055 cases, including 2,457 deaths, in 97 counties in Illinois. The age of cases ranges from younger than one to older than 100 years. Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have processed 14,821 specimens for a total of 284,688 tests completed.

For more information, please visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or ilcovid19info.com.

More transparency, communications from IDOC and Governor needed on unilateral policy changes. Illinois House Republicans are asking for more transparency and open communications from the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the Pritzker administration on policy changes and communications regarding prison furloughs or inmates released early during the coronavirus pandemic.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, whose district includes correctional centers in Taylorville and Hillsboro, said inmates released into her district include high-level drug and meth dealers.

“As a co-equal branch of government, we should not have had to learn through news reports that these inmates had been released into the general population,” said Rep. Bourne. “Governor Pritzker, his staff, and Acting Director Jeffreys have ignored our repeated requests for information. None of them has been forthcoming with facts or the rationale behind to their decision-making, and today we renew our request. Additionally, we want to know why the Governor is being so secretive about these furloughs.”

On April 9, 2020, 22 House Republican members sent a letter to IDOC Director Jeffreys laying out their questions and concerns. So far, they have not received a response. In fact, several letters from various members of the House Republican caucus have been sent to the administration and the Department on different subject matters relating to IDOC. To date, no answers have been provided to the lawmakers by either the Governor or IDOC.

State Rep. Terri Bryant says she has asked the governor and the IDOC about the release of undocumented immigrants without notifying local law enforcement officials, why a correctional facility lockdown was not implemented sooner to stop the spread of COVID-19, and what criteria was used to determine the release of more than 1300 Department of Corrections offenders.

“The people of Illinois have the right to understand the rationale being used by the Pritzker administration in making critical decisions regarding the operations at the IDOC,” Bryant said. “Far from seeking our advice, the Governor has simply ignored requests from members of the General Assembly for more information. As a co-equal branch of government, we have a right and a duty to demand transparency from the governor.”

In the April 9 letter to Jeffreys, House Republicans sought information about the parameters used to decide which inmates qualified for furloughs or early release, the type of oversight that is in place to monitor furloughed inmates, and if victims and communities were notified ahead of time prior to each prisoner’s release. They also asked for a complete list of furloughed offenders and any inmates released early due to coronavirus, and the crimes for which they were serving time.

State Rep. Tom Bennett, whose legislative district includes the Pontiac Correctional Center and is home to several employees of the Danville Correctional Center, also expressed disappointment in the lack of information that has been shared about the early release of hundreds of offenders.

“While the Governor may have executive powers to make unilateral decisions during this time, his administration should be more transparent and forthcoming when they are making decisions that affect the safety of the people and communities of the State of Illinois,” Rep Bennett said.

State Rep. John Cabello, who has worked for more than 20 years as a police officer and detective, suggested the Governor is using the Coronavirus pandemic to further his cause of releasing criminals, many of whom were given multiple chances and received sentences as repeat offenders.

“I will hold Governor Pritzker personally responsible if any of the murderers or other violent felons he has released hurt another person,” said Rep. Cabello. “If they do, I will make it my mission in life to make sure the victims, their families, and the public know that offender was back on the streets and able to victimize them because of Governor JB Pritzker’s actions.”

House Republicans urge Gov. Pritzker to consult General Assembly on Coronavirus Executive Orders, consider regional re-opening. State Representatives Norine Hammond, Dan Ugaste and C.D. Davidsmeyer are urging Governor J.B. Pritzker to consult and work with lawmakers in the General Assembly before he issues future Coronavirus-specific executive orders and to consider a regional approach to re-opening Illinois’ economy.

“As a co-equal branch of government, the Illinois General Assembly has a duty to collaborate and provide legislative oversight with the other branches of government, particularly with the executive branch,” said Rep. Hammond. “Additionally, lawmakers hear from their constituents and the people of Illinois on a daily basis, more so during a crisis like this and more often than the decision-makers in state agencies and the governor’s office. This is exactly why the governor should consult and work with lawmakers from both parties and across the state as he considers further executive orders related to the Coronavirus. If the governor works with us, we can ensure that his actions reflect the uniqueness of our area and the diversity of our state.”

“Illinois statutes clearly state in Section 7 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act that the Governor can issue a thirty-day disaster proclamation,” Rep. Davidsmeyer said. “While the Act is silent on extending disaster proclamations beyond 30 days, I have a hard time believing that the General Assembly would give unlimited renewals of that extreme power. The Governor should seek the approval of the General Assembly to extend the stay-at-home order more than 30 days.”

The Illinois House of Representatives was scheduled to be in session this week, but was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home order.

“The Illinois House hasn’t met since the first week of March. Eighteen days of session have been cancelled, but other Midwestern states are convening their legislatures and discussing their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is past time for Speaker Madigan to call the House to return to discuss how we move the State forward,” said Davidsmeyer.

Rep. Hammond and other lawmakers are urging the governor to involve the General Assembly in any further Coronavirus-related actions, including a plan to allow the state to safely re-open on a regional basis.

“We know the Coronavirus is affecting our area in ways very differently than Chicago,” Rep. Hammond continued. “That’s why I believe county health departments and local emergency management agencies should be empowered to make decisions based on the situation on the ground locally, rather than State officials making decisions based on statewide data. I will continue to urge the Governor to be more transparent, make decisions on a regional basis and allow communities not seeing growing positive Coronavirus cases to re-open businesses and other activities on a safe, responsible and timely basis.”

Lawsuits filed against Illinois stay-at-home order. A lawsuit by Rep. Darren Bailey was heard in Clay County circuit court on Monday, April 27. In a decision issued that day, Clay County Judge McHaney granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) to end the stay-at-home order for plaintiff Bailey. Gov. Pritzker pledged to appeal the ruling. As part of the overall litigation, and after the decision was appealed, Bailey withdrew the original lawsuit while leaving open his ability to re-file it with new legal language.

In the first Bailey lawsuit, which sought an exception from the declaration by Governor Pritzker of a state of emergency, Rep. Bailey pointed to the lack in State law of legal language granting the power of an open-ended statewide economic shutdown to the Governor of the state. In particular, the plaintiff asserted that State law grants these powers to the governor for “30 days,” not for a revolving series of 30-day periods. The language is found in Section 7 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act (20 ILCS 3305/7).

A separate lawsuit was filed by Rep. John Cabello on Wednesday, April 29. Filed on grounds separate from the Bailey lawsuit, the Cabello lawsuit argues that the Governor’s stay-at-home order exceeds his constitutional authority as Governor. The Cabello lawsuit, if it wins, would strike the stay-at-home order for Illinoisans across the state. The Cabello lawsuit has legal similarities to a lawsuit filed in the neighboring state of Wisconsin, which borders Rep. Cabello’s district. An informal seven-state compact, which includes Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and four other states, is governing stay-at-home activities throughout much of the Midwest.

Controversial Commission rule withdrawn. One of the issues surrounding COVID-19 is the distribution of the health care costs when someone comes down with the disease. On April 13, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission adopted an emergency administrative rule that purported to declare that whenever anyone who is employed as an “essential worker” is diagnosed with coronavirus, the employee’s medical care provider would be justified in assuming (“presumption”) that the employee had caught the disease during working hours. These health care providers were given a green light to send stacks of medical bills to each employer’s workers’ compensation insurer, no matter where the virus had actually come from.

The Commission rulemaking got some sharp pushback, because: (a) there is not yet any way of knowing exactly where someone contracted coronavirus, and (b) this policy, if implemented, would have been a massive policy shift that should be enacted by legislation, rather than by an emergency administrative rule adopted by an appointed panel. The Commission exacerbated this problem by initially adopting the rule in a closed-door meeting (it was later brought up in an announced tele-conference meeting, and readopted). A court granted a temporary restraining order against the controversial rule, and on Monday, April 27, the Commission took administrative action to withdraw the rule. The effect of the rule’s withdrawal is to return COVID-19 to the same status as all other contagious illnesses contracted by covered employees. Each employee will have a full opportunity to present evidence, if warranted, on where he or she contracted the virus.

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