(The Center Square) – What started as two weeks of restrictions to slow the spread lasted nearly a year-and-a-half.
Now, with the state on Friday set to enter Phase 5 of the reopening plan he created, some want Gov. J.B. Pritzker to stop governing through disaster proclamations and executive orders.
After 18 gubernatorial COVID-19 disaster proclamations and dozens of executive orders, Illinois is about to enter a full reopening ahead of the weekend. That means for the first time in nearly a year and a half, conventions, concerts and other large group events can return to full capacity in Phase 5 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 reopening plan.
Michael Jacobson with the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association celebrated the long-awaited reopening.
“Many hotels, if they were suspended altogether, they didn’t have a penny of revenue for 15 months and it’s going to take years to come to make up for a year’s worth of lost revenue,” Jacobson said.
While leisure travel for families is picking back up now, Jacobson said it may take longer for trade shows and business conventions to fully return.
But, there will still be mask guidelines the governor has said will follow CDC guidance – the latest of which says fully vaccinated people can go without a mask in most situations. Masks will still be required in Illinois on public transportation, health care settings and inside schools.
Hotels will each have their own protocols for mask requirements on unvaccinated people, and many of the distancing provisions will carry over, like spacing out seating. But, Jacobson said a lot of lessons were learned.
“We can’t afford to be shutdown again, so God forbid we experience something similar, it was devastating for so many hotel owners across the state,” Jacobson said.
Hundreds of millions of tax dollars from the federal and state governments are lined up for the tourism and hospitality industry to assist in recovering from the pandemic, and government orders restricting the economy.
As the first cases of COVID-19 were being reported in Illinois last year, the first orders from Pritzker in March 2020 closed restaurants to in-person service. He telegraphed what was to come on NBC that spring.
“COVID-19 is spreading because even healthy people can be walking around, giving it to other people, so we need to go on lockdown,” Pritzker said then.
There was then a ten-week stay-at-home order closing schools and other in-person businesses. That was followed by months of dialed-in capacity restrictions dictated by the governor without any check from the General Assembly.
There was a Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission that was approved during a truncated session of the state Legislature in 2020, but it stumbled with false starts. The group was disbanded by law at the end of 2020.
Lawmakers this year passed a similar group in Senate Bill 632 that will meet into 2023. The group would be tasked with monitoring “actions taken by the Office of the Governor with regard to the Restore Illinois plan and to keep members of the General Assembly informed of those actions and any need for further legislative action.”
During the session last month, state Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-St. Charles, argued against the bill and warned lawmakers against letting the executive go unchecked.
“We are operating and moving down a dangerous path if we allow governors either today or in the future to declare emergency declarations as long as they want without input from the General Assembly,” Ugaste said.
Ugaste has House Bill 843 that would amend the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act to require the governor to get legislative approval of consecutive disaster proclamations.
The last Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission had 16 meetings. State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, said his notes indicate only three were live-streamed to the public and there wasn’t much collaboration.
“In my memory, that was the only time the governor engaged with us was to ask us whether children should be able to trick or treat,” Murphy said. “We were AWOL for 224 days in 2020 … we don’t need that commission now, we need to get back to work.”
Murphy demanded there be hearings on the millions in taxpayer costs for leasing hospitals that were rarely or never used, hearings on the failures at the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which continues to be closed to the public for more than a year, and hearings on the continued backlog of Firearm Owner’s Identification cards, among other issues.