After two years of COVID executive orders, calls for oversight persist

After two years of COVID executive orders, calls for oversight persist

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Gov. J.B. Pritzker has issued more than 110 executive orders and two years worth of 30-day emergency proclamations in the name of managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Some say there needs to be more oversight.

Pritzker’s first COVID order on March 12, 2020, dealt with cannabis regulations. But, the cascade of orders evolved into closing restaurants and other businesses he deemed nonessential, keeping kids from schools and masking them when they returned, and vaccine mandates on various sectors impacting various aspects of the economy for the past 24 months.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said the governor’s authority to manage the pandemic is important.

“We needed leadership in that moment,” Guzzardi told The Center Square. “We need the governor to step in and take the emergency actions he did to protect the people of this state.”

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said the effects of the governor’s unilateral rule and lack of oversight over the past two years has been painful. Other states had fewer restrictions and are thriving, she said.

“We are struggling to get back,” Rezin told The Center Square. “We’re struggling to employ people. We have higher than normal unemployment versus other states coming out of the pandemic. There are many issue we look at.”

For schools, she said it took court action to lift the governor’s mask and exclusion mandates.

A circuit court ruled the governor’s mask and exclusion mandates and vaccine or testing rule was null and void. Pritzker took that to the appeals court. The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules blocked the mandate and the Illinois Supreme Court decided against hearing the case and sent it back to the circuit court. After that, the governor ended his mask mandate in schools, saying it was because of recently modified guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“We’ve asked to be part of the process,” Rezin said. “We are a co-equal branch of government that has been left out of the loop when the governor chooses to make many of these heavy-handed decisions.”

Pritzker has said he was in communication with legislative leaders about his executive orders, but never called the legislature back for a special session to deal with things like mask mandates that caused confusion across the state. The Senate president and House speaker also never called the Legislature back for a special session to deal with the orders and their impacts on the state’s economy and education system.

Republicans have measures that would require legislative oversight of any consecutive 30-day disaster proclamations. Guzzardi said that’s worth looking at, but he’s uncomfortable tying the governor’s hands in case there’s another emergency.

“COVID and then alpha and then delta and then omicron, and each of those variants has presented a very different set of challenges to this state,” Guzzardi said. “Who knows what the next wave is going to look like. I mean, knock wood, hopefully we’re through the worst of it.”

The governor maintains his orders were necessary to keep the state safe from COVID.

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