New bill would allow state lawmakers to meet and vote remotely in Illinois

An Illinois lawmaker is making an effort to keep the state government working during statewide emergencies.

Business halted in March, around the same time Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared a statewide disaster. Lawmakers convened in May for a brief special session, but they canceled their fall veto session and have not conducted any officials business since May 24.

Democratic state Rep. Ann Williams has filed new legislation that would allow the General Assembly to meet and vote remotely during a pandemic or other emergency that makes in-person meetings dangerous.

“I think cases like a pandemic, sometimes you need to have a back-up,” Williams said. “That’s whats this bill is designed to be, a back-up only in cases when you absolutely can not meet safely.”

A bill to permit virtual lawmaking failed by one vote during the General Assembly’s May session. During that special session, the Senate enacted a procedural rule that allows its committees to meet remotely, but only for informational meetings. They are not allowed to take recorded votes.

Under the proposed legislation, remote sessions and committee meetings would be allowed “in times of pestilence or an emergency resulting from a domestic or foreign terrorist attack” if the speaker of the House and Senate president issue a joint proclamation. The bill also contains a provision allowing the public to view the proceedings.

State Sen. Robert Martwick has filed a Senate version of the bill.

“The governor has emergency powers to secure the health of our state,” Martwick said in a statement. “However, it is the Legislature’s responsibility to enact the long-term policies in accordance with the needs of our unique and diverse constituencies.”

Williams said the current inability to conduct business remotely has hindered lawmaker’s ability to respond to the health crisis.

“Many other states have taken steps to provide for some form of remote legislating. There is no reason in 2021 we can’t find a way to make it happen,” Williams said.