Legislative Newsletter: Special Session Recap

After not having met since March 5, we met for four days of special session in the General Assembly and then officially adjourned. As there was still work to be done, I strongly advocated for longer session time – which was already built into the legislative calendar. However, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives chose to adjourn late Saturday night after pushing through a partisan, unbalanced budget for the new fiscal year.  Below is a recap of what transpired last week during this special session as well as additional issues that have come up in the Governor’s response to COVID-19:

Letter to Governor Pritzker

I signed onto a letter to Governor Pritzker urging him to consider the human toll the Stay at Home Order for this pandemic is taking.  Along with 39 of my House Republican colleagues, we advocated for a holistic approach to handling this public health crisis.  

The data on the mental impact, the emotional impact and the indirect impact on people’s health the Stay at Home Order has had cannot be ignored.  There has been an increase in the number of suicides, domestic abuse cases and substance abuse.  There are consequences to being isolated for long periods of time and we must address this immediately if we are going to save not only the lives of those infected by the virus, but also the lives of those affected by the government’s response.

You can read our entire letter to the Governor here.  

New Legislation

This year I filedseveral pieces of legislation that I was not allowed to present due to the Speakers cancellation of the last 7 days of session, as well as the Governor’s unwillingness to call a Special Session.  Those bills included a property tax reform package to increase government efficiencies and reduce the heavy burden on residents. Property taxes remain a top issue and one of the biggest roadblocks to our success here in Illinois.  While this reform package wasn’t allowed to move forward, I will continue to push for these necessary reforms that will bring Illinois residents much needed relief. 

I also filed HB3910 to prohibit a cost of living adjustment ‘raise’ for state lawmakers.  This adjustment is built into state statute and is authorized each year unless legislation is passed to reject the raise.  Unfortunately, the Democrat majority refused to move this bill forward, which resulted in their wanted pay increase.  This was infuriating; especially at a time when 1.2 million Illinois residents are currently out of work.   In addition to a number of other bills that would help save taxpayers money. I filed HB5790 to fix the problems in the Illinois Emergency Management Act.  This legislation would have guaranteed legislative involvement in any declared emergency lasting more than 30 days and not required the involvement of the courts to ensure a co-equal branch of government is not silenced.

One productive bipartisan moment in special session included negotiating an amendment to the Occupational Disease Act.  I worked alongside my colleagues through the “agreed bill process” between Labor and Business to negotiate HB2455, which will help first responders and front line workers should they contract COVID-19 while at work.  This measure was in direct response to the pandemic and was a necessary step forward to help protect workers.

IDPH Emergency Rule Blocked by House GOP

The House Republican Caucus effectively blocked an improper and overreaching rule put in place by the Pritzker administration to create a new crime, including jail time and up to a $2,500 fine, for businesses who defy the Stay at Home Order and attempt to reopen.   This emergency rule was not only an unnecessary attack on small businesses, but something that should have been decided by the legislature. 

At one of his daily COVID19 media briefings, Pritzker said this executive order would be an additional tool for law enforcement.   Yet, county sheriff’s offices from around the state publicly voiced their opposition, saying that they would not enforce it.  

Due to pressure from Republicans in the legislature in combination with that from the public, the rule was pulled last week by the administration before it was due for review by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR); the bipartisan legislative panel charged with approving or rejecting rules sought by the executive branch.  This was a big victory for the Republican caucus, businesses across Illinois and the people of Illinois.

Daycares Moved into Phase 3 of Restore IL Plan

Caving to pressure from the House Republican Caucus and childcare advocates, Governor Pritzker announced that more childcare centers will be allowed to reopen in Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois Plan.  

This was a win for the House Republicans, local business owners and Illinois families.   Had childcare centers been excluded from Phase 3, it would have led to massive shortages in daycare access and availability as people return to work.  

This was a necessary concession from the Governor, and I am pleased that this change was made, for the well-being of families and businesses.  According to the Illinois Directors and Owners of Childcare Centers, the administration’s current restrictions are putting childcare centers out of business while placing a heavy burden on families—including essential emergency workers.  

Previously, Governor Pritzker was insistent that the state’s few open childcare facilities for emergency workers would suffice. This theory placed daycare centers in Phase 4 of his Restore Illinois.  With last week’s announcement, more childcare centers will be allowed to open in the coming days.

A Partisan Budget 

On the fourth and final day of Special session, the House of Representatives passed a partisan, unbalanced budget, which appropriates roughly $42.8 billion in spending for FY2021. 

I voted against the budget for a number of reasons, primarily because the Democrat majority drafters admitted it is at least $6 billion out of balance; as well as being a partisan plan that did not involve the House Republicans.  Republicans were not allowed to participate nor give meaningful input into the process and therefore, it had a number of problems:  It gives the Governor more power over our state finances; it forces a tax increase on our already overburdened taxpayers; it increases spending and increases borrowing—thus, by doing so, increases our state’s debt.  

Most notably included in the budget was the pay increase the Democrats sought for themselves.  It is unconscionable that, at a time when so many in our state are suffering, the Democrats were looking out for themselves.  I did not support increasing my pay and will be returning that portion of my salary to the State of Illinois, since it is already broke.   

Before the vote on the budget, I stood on the “House Floor” and asked that we spend more time to come to a bipartisan agreement that would better serve the people of Illinois.  You can watch my floor speech here.  

Ultimately, this budget isn’t something that our chamber should be proud of and certainly wasn’t something that I could support.  Our state has real issues before us not only because of the pandemic, but many other issues that existed for our state before this crisis.  We owed it to the people of Illinois to work together to fix the problems in our State and produce a budget that would actually restore the State of Illinois.

Vote by Mail Expansion (VBM)

The Democrats also pushed through an expanded vote by mail program under the guise that it was needed because of the current public health crisis.  In reality, they have been trying to get this done for years.  While I am in favor of expanding voting opportunities to Illinois residents, it needed to be done in the right way.  

Our state already has some of the most permissive election laws in the country:  absentee voting, a long period of early voting, grace period voting, in-person Election Day voting, Election Day voter registration, online voter registration and more.  

The legislation makes several changes, most notably including the following:

  • Makes Election Day a State holiday for schools and universities, but not private sector employees;
  • Any registered voter who voted in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 will be mailed a Vote By Mail (VBM) application, but not voters from 2016, which will potentially work to disenfranchise 1 million Illinoisans;
  • The Illinois Secretary of State will twice conduct a taxpayer-funded “chase” program for VBM applicants encouraging them to return their VBM application or ballot;
  • Allows curbside voting;
  • Allows for remote VBM drop boxes, where a local election authority can set up an off-site location for VBM ballots to be dropped off, the security of which is at best tenuous under this legislation  

In its current form, this legislation has some serious potential flaws that would greatly increase the potential for voter fraud as well as an increased cost to taxpayers.  I also asked the Democratic majority to withdraw this piece of legislation and work to improve it with Republicans – this call went unheeded as well. 

IDES Failure

Two weeks ago, the Department of Employment Services’ online database was compromised, causing private information belonging to unemployment assistance applicants to be made public for a short period of time.

This breach was discovered when one of my colleagues was notified by a constituent who found that, while attempting to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits, they were able to access a spreadsheet with the names and Social Security Numbers of thousands of applicants.

The Governor’s office and IDES were made aware immediately and the problem has since been corrected.  However, the Pritzker Administration still have not answered questions from the legislature on the nature of the breach.  Despite the demands from lawmakers, the Governor has not discussed this matter with the General Assembly.  Until he answers for this grave error, if you did apply for unemployment, I would encourage you to stay vigilant about your personal information to ensure it has not been compromised in any way. 

Contact Me

My office continues to work remotely as we navigate this pandemic.  However, we are still working and available to you.  You can email me at ugaste@ilhousegop.org and contact me by phone at (630) 797-5530 if you have concerns or need assistance navigating community resources.