(The Center Square) – The Illinois legislature is heading back to Springfield next week after being off since early March because of COVID-19 concerns. 

Lawmakers are expected to take up issues related to the state budget, COVID-19, laws with upcoming sunsets, and election matters.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker put a stay-at-home order in place on March 21. That order shuttered all nonessential businesses in the state, although some businesses had voluntarily closed before that. Under the governor's extended stay-at-home order, which started May 1 and runs through May 30, some nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen for curbside pickup.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he’s glad lawmakers are heading back to the capitol, but it’s going to be a logistical challenge to maintain social distancing.

“This will be a new way of doing business, obviously, at the Bank of Springfield Center,” Butler said. “Still to be seen how everything rolls out.”

The Bank of Springfield Center had been talked about as an alternate location for the Illinois House to meet so lawmakers have more space to socially distance.

“A different setup indeed that will probably make the process a little more clunky,” Butler said.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Chicago, said lawmakers are being asked to take a pledge before returning. The pledge includes promising to wear masks and practice social distancing while in Springfield. They’ve been asked to take a COVID-19 test before arriving.

“We’re also being asked to be tested after we get back from Springfield and social distance for seven days after that so this is going to be quite the rodeo,” Zalewski said.

While the House will conduct session at the nearby convention center with committees of smaller groups to hold hearings in the full House chambers for more spacing, the Senate will convene at the capitol in the Senate chambers next week on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Butler said passing a budget would be paramount. He said he is concerned Democrats will push through election law changes to send everyone mail-in ballots. And he would like to see a check on the governor’s power.

“By shutting down the economy of the state of Illinois and by coming out with his ‘Restore Illinois’ plan, there’s been zero input from the General Assembly on these,” Butler said. “These are massive plans. The General Assembly needs to have input on this.”

Zalewski said a review of the governor’s powers would likely come at a later time. As to election law changes during a pandemic, he said to expect that.

“I think any review of how we make voting easier in a pandemic era is something that we will take up given that the election is in November,” Zalewski said.

There’s an end of May deadline to pass legislation, including a budget, with simple majorities.

The budget that starts July 1 is expected to see up to $7 billion less in revenue that was initially protected in February. The revenue declines are a direct result of the pandemic.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said public access at the convention center in Springfield will be under the direction and enforcement of the Illinois State Police. Limited access will also be available in the capitol building for other proceedings.

Documents sent in announcing the special session guidelines include lawmakers and the public undergoing temperature checks on session days prior to entering the capitol or any other grounds used to convene session. 

"All those entering the Capitol Complex or a building intended for conducting state business for a temperature of 100F degrees or greater and/or other COVID-19 related symptoms," the documents said. 

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.