BY CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS
A second Republican state representative on Wednesday, April 29, filed a lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritzker alleging he overstepped his authority in ordering Illinoisans to stay at home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The outcome of Machesney Park Rep. John Cabello’s case could affect all state residents, as Cabello filed the suit in Winnebago County on behalf of himself and “all citizens of the state of Illinois similarly situated.”
Illinoisans’ right to “free movement”—to leave their homes and shop at a local business, for example—were “arbitrarily stripped away from them” by Pritzker’s implementation of the stay-at-home restriction, Cabello alleges.
That order, initially instituted on March 20 and extended through the end of May, “could continue into perpetuity as (Pritzker) solely determines, all without due process of law,” according to the court filing.
“No one has that authority—nobody, not the governor, not the president,” Cabello’s attorney, Thomas DeVore, said Wednesday in a phone interview. “That is the stuff of kings centuries ago. It is unconstitutional.”
DeVore is also representing Rep. Darren Bailey, a Republican from Xenia, in a similar case. On Monday, April 27, a Clay County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Bailey and released him from the governor’s stay-at-home orders.
Cabello’s case differs from Bailey’s in that it alleges the Illinois Department of Public Health has “supreme authority” to close businesses and put residents under quarantine or isolation.
According to the statute creating the department, officials must either have an Illinoisan’s consent when doing so, or obtain a court order. The burden of proof is great—among other things, the department would need to prove to a judge that the community’s health is “significantly endangered” by the person it wants to quarantine.
DeVore said the procedure outlined by that statute is “the law of the land” and what should be governing any quarantines.
Pritzker on Wednesday called the latest lawsuit “irresponsible” and an attempt at “grandstanding.”
And on Tuesday, April 28, the governor denounced Bailey, calling his lawsuit “a cheap political stunt.”
“This ruling only applies to one person because it was only ever about one person,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office filed a notice to appeal the judge’s ruling in the Bailey case.
Xenia Republican Rep. Darren Bailey alleged in his lawsuit that by issuing successive 30-day COVID-19 disaster proclamations, Gov. JB Pritzker overstepped his authority. The governor characterized the suit as “a cheap political stunt” that will have dangerous ramifications if allowed to stand.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Wednesday, April 29, filed an appeal with the 5th District Appellate Court in Mt. Vernon and simultaneously in the Illinois Supreme Court of the Clay County ruling.
ILLINOIS SUPREME COURT ASKED TO WEIGH IN: The Illinois attorney general’s office asked the state’s highest court to consider arguments in a state representative’s case challenging the governor’s authority to oversee the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the Illinois Supreme Court agrees, it would take over from the fifth appellate district, which has not yet held a hearing in Xenia Republican Rep. Darren Bailey’s lawsuit.
Of the 203 similar requests made to the highest court since 1995, only 22 were allowed by the justices, according to a spokesperson for the court.
In a document filed with the court Wednesday, April 29, the attorney general’s office argued Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney’s ruling that Bailey is no longer subject to Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order was grounded on an “erroneous conclusion.”
Bailey alleges Pritzker does not have the power to issue successive 30-day disaster proclamations for the same disaster—COVID-19, in this case. The state disagrees.
“Because COVID-19 has killed over 2,000 Illinois residents and continues to infect more, and because the circuit court’s ruling threatens the governor’s authority to protect the public from the virus, the public interest requires an expeditious and definitive determination of this appeal by this court,” the state argued in the court filing.
The state is asking the Supreme Court to either order Bailey’s attorney Thomas DeVore to respond by Friday, May 1, or halt McHaney’s ruling from taking effect until arguments can be held.
STAY-AT-HOME ORDER: Beginning Friday, May 1, the governor’s new executive order eased a number of restrictions put in place over the past two months.
Retail stores can begin taking online orders and offering pick-up services, state parks and golf courses can reopen and elective surgeries can be scheduled. All reintroduced actions are subject to social distancing and other guidance issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Also, adults, children over the age of 2 and all other residents medically able to wear a face covering must do so in places social distancing is not possible starting Friday.
“All these changes present a shift in our approach to COVID-19, a shift made possible by the millions of Illinoisans who have stepped up by staying home and keeping each other safe,” Pritzker said Thursday at his daily coronavirus briefing in Chicago.
His new order, he added, takes into account “that different areas of the state require different rules during this time.” Elective surgeries, for example, are “much more available” in areas of Illinois outside the Chicago metropolitan area.
The state is “staying the course of making sure that we’re keeping an eye on the health and safety of every Illinoisan, wherever they live,” the governor said.
CORONAVIRUS CASES AND DEATHS: The Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday, April 30, announced 2,563 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 since Wednesday and 141 lives lost in 14 counties.
That brings the state total to 2,355 deaths and 52,918 cases and in 97 counties.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said 13,200 tests were analyzed by personnel at public and private labs Wednesday. They were able to do so because officials “aggressively” assembled the means to amass test processing materials.
Those officials did so “with limited assistance from the federal government,” the governor said.
TESTING UPDATE: Illinois officials on Thursday, April 30, said increased COVID-19 testing is “vital” to reopening the state’s economy, lifting social restrictions and protecting Illinois residents.
Laboratory personnel processed more than 10,000 tests per day for the past week, exceeding Gov. JB Pritzker’s long-stated goal in order to provide a clear picture of the novel coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the state.
State workers also partnered with hospitals and community health centers to increase free testing sites in Illinois. Today, there are 177 such locations across the state. Last Friday, there were 112.
Those locations can be found on the state’s website, DPH.Illinois.gov/testing.
The number of drive-thru testing sites are also growing, up to seven across Illinois. The two new locations are in Waukegan and East St. Louis, and will open next week.
CHURCH FILES SUIT: While the extended stay-at-home order does not ease restrictions for religious gatherings, one congregation on Thursday, April 30, filed a lawsuit against the governor and others and said it planned to host services Friday, May 1.
The Beloved Church in Lena alleges the state breached its First Amendment right to practice religion.
Pritzker said this religious institution is “a bit of an outlier,” because many faith leaders across Illinois have found “new ways” to connect with their parishioners.
“Nobody is going to run in and break up a gathering of church goers at that moment, but I will tell you that there are consequences, of course,” Pritzker said. “The state has the ability to enforce orders. But we’ve been looking to people to do the right thing and they should do the right thing, and I think the parishioners, by the way, ought to do the right thing and ask those who are faith leaders, either not to hold those services or simply ask that they have something online.”
He added those who attend the services might infect others.
“We know that there are many, many people out there that are pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic and yet have coronavirus,” he said. “So if you put one of those people in a room full of parishioners, you run the risk that you’re going to get a kind of exponential run of this disease, of this infection rather, through a crowd of people that you love and care for.”
UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS: Unemployment in Illinois and the U.S. continues to balloon amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The state reported 81,596 first-time claims in the week ending April 25, during which time more than 3.8 million claims were submitted nationally.
That means 818,917 Illinoisans filed for unemployment since March 21, and 681,041 drew unemployment benefits during the week ending April 25. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that is about 10.7 percent of Illinois’ civilian work force.
The claims from March 1 to April 25 this year were more than 10 times those made in the same period last year, when approximately 69,000 total claims were field in Illinois.
This is the first time in five weeks that the number of initial claims in Illinois fell under 100,000. The peak was the week of April 4, when 201,041 initial claims were made.
Nationally, more than 30 million people filed jobless claims since the beginning of the pandemic.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 12.4 percent for the week ending April 18 was an increase of 1.5 percent from the previous week, once again marking the highest figure in the history of the metric.
LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES: The state of Illinois is sending out teams of nurses and ramping up testing for COVID-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as it continues efforts to control the spread of the virus.
Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday, April 29, during his daily briefing in Chicago that the Illinois Department of Public Health is deploying 10 teams of 50 nurses each to long-term care facilities around the state, and it will deploy another team of 200 nurses in the coming days.
Pritzker said the nurses’ primary functions will be to administer swab tests to the staff and residents, train nursing home staff on how to conduct swab tests themselves, and help the facilities improve their hygiene practices and use of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said her agency is focusing on nursing homes because of the unique vulnerability of their residents.
“Our long-term care residents are at greater risk of infection because of the inherent nature of living in that congregate setting, not to mention the advanced age and the attendant comorbidities,” she said. “Public Health will continue to work closely with the long-term care facilities across the state, calling almost 200 facilities a day to check in on the staff and ask for the assistance that may be required. We’re making sure that they’re employing the most up-to-date guidance and answering any questions that they may have.”
Pritzker had announced earlier that the state was ramping up testing at those facilities so that all residents and staff could be tested free of charge. Since April 19 when those efforts began, he said, the state has distributed more than 18,000 testing swabs to 68 facilities across the state.
More recently, he said Wednesday, IDPH secured a contract with New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics, which operates labs in Illinois, to process 3,000 tests per day for long-term care facilities and to report those results within 48 hours.
LEGISLATIVE SESSION: Republicans in the General Assembly are urging House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon to call lawmakers back into session so they can vote on whether to extend the state’s stay-at-home order beyond May 1.
The top legislative leaders, however, say they’re not yet ready to make that call.
“I’m not here to criticize the governor amid this crisis, but to bring attention to the fact that the state Legislature needs to be part of the decision-making process,” Geneva Rep. Dan Ugaste said during a video news conference Wednesday, April 29. “Any additional disaster proclamation by the governor needs the approval of both chambers of the Legislature.”
Ugaste was joined by Assistant Republican Leaders Norine Hammond, of Macomb, and C.D. Davidsmeyer, of Jacksonville, who argued that Gov. JB Pritzker is exceeding his legal authority by extending the stay-at-home order another month.
“A co-equal branch of government – and I stress co equal – the Illinois General Assembly has the duty to collaborate and to provide legislative oversight with the other branches of government, particularly with the executive branch,” Hammond said.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said in an interview Wednesday that calling lawmakers back into session would go against the advice of public health experts about how to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon, also said it is too early to call lawmakers back into session.
CORONAVIRUS DOWNSTATE: Gov. JB Pritzner on Monday, April 27, stressed that despite the fact that 1,347 of 1,983 deaths have occurred in Chicago and Cook County, two of the top five counties in infection rate are downstate. The top five include Cook, Jasper, Lake, Will, and Randolph counties.
In fact, Pritzker said the counties with the top death rates per capita are Jasper and Monroe. Jasper County is within Bailey’s southern Illinois 109th House District and has had three of approximately 9,600 residents die from the virus. Monroe County is on the Missouri border and has had 10 of approximately 34,600 residents die from COVID-19.
“That means you’re more likely to die of COVID-19 if you live in either of those two counties than if you live in Chicago or in Cook County,” Pritzker said.
He said while the Chicago area has most of the cases, it also has about two-thirds of the state’s population and most of its hospital capacity.
“COVID-19 knows no county or regional boundaries. It’s clear that some people are simply looking at the number of cases in a county and not looking at the infection rate,” he said, later adding, “The decisions have most often been very difficult, often choosing between saving lives and saving livelihoods. But thousands of Illinoisans are still with us today because nearly all of you have made an earnest effort to follow our stay-at-home order.”
PRISONER RELEASES: Illinois House Republicans on Monday, April 27, stepped up their demands that the Pritzker administration release more information about inmates being furloughed or granted early releases from state prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also requested the governor consult more with the General Assembly about granting such releases.
“As a co-equal branch of government, we shouldn’t have to wait and learn of all of this from media reports,” Rep. Avery Bourne, of Morrisonville, said during a video news conference. “We should not have had to learn from a media report that between March 2 and April 10, there were 1,300 prison inmates who were released through executive action. As a co-equal branch of government, we should have known about this ahead of time.”
Gov. JB Pritzker issued an executive order April 6 allowing the Illinois Department of Corrections to grant medical furloughs to inmates beyond the standard 14-day limit.
But he has also used his executive authority to commute the sentences of 20 inmates since declaring a state of disaster on March 9, according to the Prisoner Review Board, and IDOC has used its administrative authority to grant early releases to hundreds of inmates to reduce the prison population and the risk of exposing both inmates and prison staff to the virus.
Pritzker estimated that more than 1,300 inmates had been released since he issued the disaster declaration, although he said he did not have an exact number when asked at his news conference Monday.
Pritzker said previously that his goal was to release inmates who were incarcerated for relatively low-level offenses and people who were nearing the end of their prison term anyway.
But Rep. John Cabello, of Machesney Park, said the releases have gone far beyond those criteria to include 47 people convicted of murder, including at least two who had decades left on their sentences.
Cabello also said lawmakers want to make sure that crime victims and their families are being properly notified when an offender is released.
But IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said in an email that crime victims and local law enforcement agencies are being notified of the releases.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: A state commission voted to repeal a new rule that would have made workers’ compensation benefits available to essential employees who contracted COVID-19 without having to prove the illness was contracted at the workplace.
The Workers Compensation Commission repealed the rule, which it approved on April 16, unanimously Monday, April 27, after a Sangamon County judge granted a temporary restraining order against the new rule last week. That action was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.
The lawsuit challenged the commission’s rule that any COVID-19 first responder or front-line worker who contracts COVID-19 during the governor’s disaster declaration will be “rebuttably” presumed to have done so in work-related activity for the purposes of workers’ compensation claims. The rule was an overreach by the commission, the lawsuit alleged.
Illinoisans injured on the job normally must prove their illness or injury was directly caused by their duties.
Mark Denzler, president and CEO of IMA, and Rob Karr, president and CEO of IRMA, issued a joint statement Monday saying while the organizations are concerned about worker safety, the lawsuit centered on the authority of the commission. They also said the decision would have subjected Illinois businesses to “billions of dollars in added costs at a time when many are struggling to make payroll and retain employees.”
SCHOOLS IN THE FALL: When questioned about schooling in the state, Gov. JB Pritzker said Sunday, April 27, that school administrators and teachers should spend time this summer preparing for in-person education and improving their e-learning curriculum.
“It is still unclear what things will look like over the summer and the fall,” he said. “But without knowing the answer, e-learning is an important thing for us to develop either way.”
Pritzker said the pandemic highlighted how many districts were unprepared to administer e-learning. In response, the State Board of Education has financial resources available to assist them in bulking up their programs.
“I think that in the future, we’ll be using e-learning more and more, even in the absence of a pandemic,” the governor added.
STATE REVENUES: Gov. JB Pritzker on Sunday, April 27, was asked about the state’s fiscal shape at the brief news conference and said lost revenues will present a “real challenge” for next fiscal year’s state budget. When he made his initial proposal in February, it was “balanced” upon the money officials expected the state to receive, but COVID-19 has made those estimates obsolete.
“I do think that we’re looking at all the areas in which there may be a need to make cuts or changes to our state budget in order to make it balanced,” he said.
FITNESS CENTERS: Before gyms can reopen, Gov. JB Pritzker said when asked on Sunday, April 27, that owners must develop a system to ensure the safety of employees and customers.
“You would have to have a lot of staff, frankly, to wipe down everything on a constant basis to make it sanitary for people, and I know that’s extremely difficult,” he said. “Equipment gets dirty with fluids that come from people, and I think it would be just an extraordinary undertaking, but it would be necessary if we were to reopen those.”
MENTAL HEALTH TESTING: Gov. JB Pritzker on Saturday, April 25, highlighted the availability of mental health services for people experiencing stress and anxiety during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
During his daily COVID-19 public update in Chicago, Pritzker reminded Illinoisans that help is available, free of charge, through the text line Call4Calm, where people can access mental health services and other informational resources.
People seeking to speak with a counselor from a local community mental health center help can text the word “talk” to 552020. Spanish-speaking residents can text the word “hablar” to the same number. A professional will respond within 24 hours.
Those seeking other kinds of information or services can text keywords such as “unemployment,” “food,” or “shelter” to the same number.
HEALTH CARE WORKERS: Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike on Saturday, April 25, acknowledged that “thousands” of health care workers in Illinois were among those who contracted the disease, and some of those personnel were counted among the state’s fatalities.
Ezike did not give a specific number of medical professionals who died from COVID-19.
“It’s a sad truth and sobering truth that those who are doing the most to protect the society as a whole are falling victim,” she said. “So we thank them and we also are praying for the family members who are going to be affected by the loss as well as the whole medical community.”
Ezike said an estimated 2,600 people who were identified as health care workers tested positive for the disease, although she said not all health care workers have been tested and that number is only an estimate.
ANTIBODY TESTING: One type of testing the state has held off from is antibody testing, which attempts to detect someone’s immunity to COVID-19 via blood sample. Although some hospitals have begun administering these tests, Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday, April 24, that verifying their accuracy “has been difficult.”
Because of the quality of current antibody tests and the fact that this coronavirus is new, Pritzker said, “researchers don’t yet know the extent to which having COVID-19 antibodies equals having immunity.”
“As soon as they prove themselves accurate and reliable, I will make it a priority to get them into our communities as widely as we can,” he said. “What I won’t do is run full speed ahead with these tests before they’re proven, because among other things, we would be offering people a false sense of security.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.