Pritzker declares disaster for 16th time despite June 11 reopening prediction

Pritzker declares disaster for 16th time despite June 11 reopening prediction

Illinois could fully reopen by June 11, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker decided the state was still a disaster zone and he needed emergency powers until the end of June.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his 16th disaster proclamation on May 28, extending his emergency powers until long after he predicted the state would fully reopen June 11.

At the end of the latest 30-day declaration, Pritzker will have wielded emergency powers for 474 consecutive days.

Pritzker first declared a statewide disaster when COVID-19 hit in mid-March 2020, invoking the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act. A section of the act provides that in the case of a disaster such as a viral epidemic, the governor can issue a proclamation declaring the disaster and grant himself emergency powers over state institutions, operations and public health.

Pritzker has invoked his emergency powers to sign 75 executive orders into law during the past 15 months. These executive orders include issuing statewide stay-at-home orders, limiting the size of public gatherings, suspending the enforcement of laws and agency operations and closing schools and businesses deemed non-essential.

But the act states emergency powers are limited to 30 days. Pritzker has claimed he can extend his emergency power indefinitely by continuing to issue new disaster proclamations as they expire.

So where is the emergency now? Pritzker predicted Illinois would fully reopen June 11. More than half of Illinoisans are fully vaccinated and the 7-day positive test rate was 1.6% on June 1.

Without explicit rules on if Pritzker can extend his emergency power on his own authority, the task falls to the Illinois General Assembly to clarify with new legislation. State lawmakers have declined to do so.

Most states have not allowed emergency powers to last indefinitely. Emergency executive powers are meant to allow the governor to quickly address a disaster in a way that a deliberative body such as the General Assembly simply cannot. But when the disaster is more than a year old, there is little reason for rules to be dictated rather than debated and implemented by elected representatives.

Since declaring a second disaster proclamation and shutting down non-essential businesses by executive order, Pritzker has become the target of multiple lawsuits alleging he overstepped his authority.

The first lawsuit was filed by state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, in Clay County during April 2020. A total of 19 lawsuits challenged Pritzker’s authority to order people to stay home and to close businesses.

State courts have since ruled to uphold the mitigation policies introduced under Pritzker’s Restore Illinois reopening plan and affirm his claim to emergency power by executive order for as long as he believes the disaster that caused the emergency continues.

But one case remains alive despite the Illinois Supreme Court rejecting an appeal bid on May 26. FoxFire Restaurant in Geneva, Illinois, filed suit a year ago claiming Pritzker’s orders were arbitraty. The case continues at the trial court level.

Illinois does not have a king. State lawmakers did not nothing to dethrone Pritzker, but maybe a judge will.

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