SPRINGFIELD, IL — The Illinois House and Senate are now mask optional. That makes the lawsuit against the House’s mandate unnecessary.
Since Feb. 28, Secretary of State Jesse White, which controls the capitol complex in Springfield, has made masks recommended, not mandated. The exception was in areas controlled by the House and Senate, such as offices, committee rooms and respective chambers. Masks were required there.
The Senate announced Monday they were still requiring COVID-19 testing for individuals wanting to interact inside areas of the Illinois State Capitol controlled by the Senate. But, the announcement said masks would be recommended, not mandated.
“Face masks, which cover the nose and mouth, are strongly encouraged but not required for all persons in Senate areas of the Capitol,” a note from Senate President Don Harmon’s office said.
Tuesday, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said COVID-19 hospitalizations are down, and spoke to modifying the House rule to make masks recommended.
“Next week will mark two years from the first executive order shutting things down,” Welch said.
For most of 2020 and all of 2021, masks were required at the Illinois statehouse, including on elected officials. State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, was the first to be ejected from the House in 2020 when he was a state representative and the House held session at a Springfield convention center. In the past month, several members of the House were ejected for not wearing masks.
“We’ve come a long way,” Welch said. “We’re opening back up.”
Welch faced a lawsuit over the House ejecting state Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, multiple times. Wilhour said the mask debate has been a major distraction.
“We’re real good at taking meaningless votes over the past couple of weeks on mask theater but we’re either too weak or too compromised to tackle the epidemic of public corruption that has engulfed this place, that has engulfed this whole state, and has kept us from doing the work of the people,” Wilhour said.
Wilhour noted the indictment last week of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Magidan, who faces 22 federal counts including racketeering and bribery. Madigan has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to be arranged in federal court Wednesday.
“That stuff I guess is not important here,” Wilhour said. “It’s a national embarrassment.”
Thomas DeVore, the attorney representing Wilhour, said the modified rule means the lawsuit isn’t necessary. But, he said they’ll bring the lawsuit again if masks are ever mandated on members without due process.
“I’m pleased to hear the Democratic majority passed a resolution withdrawing their unlawful mask policy,” DeVore told The Center Square. “While the chamber can adopt rules of decorum, this does not include the discretion to adopt public health policy.”
DeVore said they were ready to challenge the rule in Sangamon County court Wednesday. But, the House dropping the rule “at the last minute renders the hearing no longer necessary.”
“The House majority should not believe this issue is over for if they ever try again to adopt an unconstitutional quarantine policy cloaked as a decorum rule, Representative Wilhour and I will return to defend the people’s House,” DeVore said.