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GOP pushes for revisions to 'Restore Illinois'; Pritzker says he's unlikely to consider changes

 
BY PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com
updated: 5/20/2020 10:06 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly say that when lawmakers return to the Capitol on Wednesday, they intend to push for changes to "Restore Illinois," Gov. J.B. Pritzker's plan for reopening the economy.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, of Bloomington, said the vetting and revising of the plan "should be done in a public setting, which can be undertaken using available technology and social-distancing protocols when we convene in Springfield."

State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) agrees that holding public hearings on the reopening proposal should be one of the first priorities of the Illinois Senate this week.

"Much of the decision-making on this reopening plan has been in the dark, based on information that hasn't been released publicly in its entirety," Schimpf said. "The legislature needs to take this opportunity to really dig into the plan, the data behind it, and the impact that the pandemic and stay-at-home order have had on people across Illinois.

"The best way to do this is through public hearings."

Pritzker's plan divides the state into four broad regions and allows for the gradual reopening of businesses and public activities in five phases if they meet and sustain certain bench marks for infection rates and hospital capacity over a 28-day period. The final, full reopening phase would occur only after a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment is widely available, something that could take a year or more.

As of May 1, all of Illinois is in the second phase, which allows nonessential retail stores to accept online and telephone orders for pickup or delivery, and allows hospitals to resume elective surgeries and procedures.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of Thursday, all four regions of the state are on course to move into Phase 3 of the plan by May 29. Manufacturing, offices, retail establishments, barbershops and salons would be able to reopen to the public, with mandatory capacity limits and other safety precautions. Gatherings of 10 or fewer people will be allowed, although face coverings and social-distancing requirements will remain in place.

Only in Phase 4 would restaurants and bars be allowed to reopen with capacity limits. Childcare and schools could resume operations under IDPH guidelines, nonessential travel would be allowed and public gatherings of up to 50 people would be permitted.

But a group of House Republicans is arguing that Pritzker's plan is still too restrictive and that progress toward a full reopening is too slow.

"I don't see how businesses can open up in Phase 3 without viable child care," said state Rep. Mike Murphy, a Springfield Republican. "I also question why restaurants, once again, are part of Phase 4 where in many other states, they're already opening. We have over 30 counties that border states with restaurants open right now."

On May 6, state Rep. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro released a statement saying the reopening of churches of more than 50 people was unacceptably delayed until phase 5.

"If my church calls for a regular in-person worship service prior to the state reaching Phase 5, I can guarantee I will be one of the first parishioners through the doors," she wrote.

When Pritzker first announced the Restore Illinois plan on May 5, he said the four regions were drawn around the state's 11 emergency medical service regions. He said the groupings were based on each region's hospital capacity and ability to coordinate emergency responses.

Last Thursday, Pritzker said a more narrowly-tailored regional system would not work.

"People who live in one area don't necessarily stay in that one area the entire time," he said. "They travel outside of the county that they're in or the city that they're in, and they do that frequently."

Meanwhile, some county sheriffs in southern Illinois and elsewhere have said they will not enforce the order.

Pritzker has so far has ruled out the possibility of using the Illinois State Police or other law enforcement agencies to enforce his orders.

But he has suggested that local governments that refuse to enforce the orders risk losing state and federal funding in the future and that bars, restaurants and other businesses that defy the order could have their licenses revoked.