Despite business, lawmaker suits, Pritzker grants himself emergency powers for 4th time
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for the fourth time extended by 30 days his emergency powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses and lawmakers are amending lawsuits in response.
On May 29, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker made yet another disaster proclamation citing the COVID-19 pandemic to justify continuing the emergency powers that authorize him to limit the size of public gatherings, suspend enforcement of certain laws and agency operations, close schools and “nonessential” businesses, and order residents to stay at home in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Pritzker reissued most of these orders in an executive order coinciding with the disaster proclamation, extending them until June 27. The move comes in spite of several lawsuits challenging Pritzker’s authority to extend the 30-day limit on a disaster declaration.
A Clay County judge granted state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, a temporary restraining order based on the argument that a governor cannot extend his emergency powers past the 30-day limit set by statute. Bailey has since asked the judge to vacate that order so he could file an amended lawsuit. Another state representative and 80 business owners also filed lawsuits, challenging Pritzker’s ability to limit their liberties beyond 30 days after the initial disaster declaration, pursuant to which the governor ordered some businesses shuttered on March 21.
The Illinois General Assembly held a short session to pass a spending plan for fiscal year 2021. During it, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation regarding township government and sexual assault treatment that both refer to the governor making subsequent disaster proclamations beyond the original 30-day limit. Pritzker signed both bills into law on June 5.
However, lawmakers did not amend the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act to explicitly allow the governor to extend the 30-day limit on his emergency powers. A requirement in the Illinois Constitution states any amendment to a section of code be made explicitly. Some plaintiffs have requested leave to amend their lawsuits in light of the new emergency order, but the validity of Pritzker’s orders remains a question for the courts.
Illinoisans are trying to navigate the path toward safely returning to work and reopening their businesses.
As of May 19, Illinois had the most restrictive COVID-19 measures of any state in the country, according to a WalletHub report. Since then, Pritzker has approved the limited reopening of K-12 schools as well as the reopening of many “nonessential” businesses, such as retailers, as long as patrons wear face masks.
Every region of the state is currently in Phase 3 of the governor’s five-phase reopening plan, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Pritzker has speculated that the state could enter Phase 4 as soon as June 26.
Slipping language into bills about townships and sexual assault victim treatment is less than transparent, and is unlikely to pass a constitutional test. State leaders owe Illinoisans more clarity regarding a governor’s powers during an emergency, especially when businesses struggle to comply with some of the most severe restrictions in the country, and an untold number of those businesses are going under all while 1.2 million workers are now unemployed and looking for jobs.