ILLINOIS (IRN) — Republicans at the Illinois statehouse demanding oversight through public hearings on the impacts of COVID-19 aren’t being echoed by the Democratic majority.
A Senate Transportation committee Thursday will be virtual and available online at ILGA.gov. That’s the website where such public committee meetings are posted in advance with the opportunity for the public to enter witness slips into the official record for their opinions on issues.
Outside of a recent Legislative Audit Commission hearing and the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules monthly meetings, Thursday’s Senate Transportation Committee hearing is the first subject matter hearing any legislative committee has had all pandemic.
The Transportation Committee isn’t dealing with corruption issues involving redlight cameras, though, and issue that was top of mind before the pandemic. Instead, the committee is evaluating “equity in construction contracting at the Illinois Tollway Authority.”
There are no House committee hearings scheduled for at least the next 30 days.
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said from the unemployment mess to how federal resources are handled, there have to be public hearings and audits to inform taxpayers about what’s happening.
“We’re five months into this and we haven’t had any public hearings on how all of this federal money is being spent, we haven’t had hearings on the failures of [the Illinois Department of Employment Security],” Bourne said.
She said Democrats who control both chambers don’t want to be exposed to questions about House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has been implicated in a corruption probe.
State Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, said the legislature isn’t failing to fulfill its oversight role of the Pritzker administration as some have said. He blamed COVID-19.
“We would like things to run much more smoothly, there’s no question about that,” Thapedi said. “But the fact still remains that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re dealing with the issue as best as we can.”
Thapedi said he holds video conference calls with constituents, but that’s not the same as posting a public hearing and taking witness slips or demanding Pritzker administration officials answer questions.
How the few hearings that have happened physically at the statehouse have varied.
The Legislative Audit Commission last month had screeners outside the committee room inside the capitol taking temperatures and asking questions about COVID-19 contact. Only a pool video camera operation was allowed, and only witnesses from the Pritzker administration, legislators on the commission and legislative staff were allowed in. Masks were required.
Tuesday’s JCAR hearing in an adjacent building at the capitol complex in Springfield didn’t have screeners and multiple members of the media were allowed. Masks were required.
Republicans have demanded public hearings beyond the audit commission and JCAR which are required by statute.
State Rep. Michael Halpin, D-Rock Island, brushed off the notion of holding public hearings on a range of subjects like nursing home deaths or unemployment issues.
“I think the state has procedures in place, both legislative and rulemaking, and that’s the procedure we should be following,” Halpin said.
Other issues republicans have been demanding hearings on include handling of schools to the overflow hospitals that have closed or are closing.
State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said public hearings to question Pritzker administration officials are essential, but not happening.
“We are the elected representatives of the people, we are their only voice, and if we don’t have the opportunity to ask these questions to make comments people really tend to feel disenfranchised,” Schimpf said.