More than three years after they started, it appears the COVID-19 disaster proclamations are finally coming to an end.
It was on March 9, 2020 when Governor Pritzker issued his first disaster declaration in response to COVID-19, allowing him to impose sweeping emergency powers free of legislative input and oversight. At the time, most Illinoisans were on board as we worked to understand the virus and the impact it would have on our lives. We took comfort that the Illinois statutes provided clear guidance for unexpected health and other emergencies, by allowing for a 30-day disaster proclamation during a crisis.
But the Governor maintained this level of authority and power by re-issuing the disaster proclamation every 30 days. This kept the legislative branch of state government at arm’s length and provided for unilateral, one-size-fits-all decision-making on an unprecedented scale. Some fully support his handling of the pandemic. Others believe he took advantage of the 30-day disaster proclamation statute. I have made no secret of my belief that the Governor exceeded his authority on many fronts.
Two weeks ago, the Governor quietly issued his 41st executive order extending his COVID-19 emergency declaration for the State of Illinois. States all around us ended their pandemic emergency declarations at least a year ago: Michigan in October of 2020, Wisconsin in March of 2021, Missouri in December of 2021, Iowa in February of 2022, and Indiana and Kentucky in March of 2022.
Whether you support or oppose the Governor’s handling of the COVID-19 issue, one thing that cannot be denied is the arbitrary nature of his mandates.
Remember when Illinoisans were told to stay home, avoid family gatherings, and that “social distancing” was the key to preventing the spread of the virus? Then on the front page of a newspaper, we saw thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder with the Governor’s blessing at a politically motivated protest in Chicago.
And how about when big box stores like Target and Walmart were told they could stay open, but small businesses owned by hardworking people just trying to make a modest living and put food on the family table were forced to close? Where is the logic that Walmart could sell shoes, but the family-owned local shoe store had to close, or that the local flower store had to close while recreational marijuana stores remained open? Let us not forget that the Governor threatened criminal action against small businesses that violated his order to remain closed. Most businesses were renamed and called “nonessential.” Awful.
Remember when vaccines became available and prison inmates were first in line to be vaccinated, ahead of seniors, cancer patients, and other Illinoisans with health issues? While I did not participate, state lawmakers got to jump the line too. Just unbelievable.
One of the most disastrous elements of the COVID mandates was the complete breakdown and dysfunctionality of the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Illinoisans forced out of work by the stroke of the Governor’s pen were unable to obtain unemployment benefits owed to them, while state employees continued to receive uninterrupted paychecks.
The effects the arbitrary mandates had on our education system were catastrophic, and schools are still trying to recover. When it came to enforcing the Pritzker school mask mandate, his administration threatened public schools with immediate revocation of their accreditation status, while public schools were afforded a lengthy period for due process. It required action by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) to force uniformity in mask enforcement policies.
On Monday, April 10, President Biden signed a resolution officially ending the COVID-19 national emergency in the United States. Even though our Governor said in January that he would follow the federal government’s lead, Illinois remains under a state of COVID emergency. Our Governor has set a date of May 11 for the end of his proclamations.
During this time of immeasurable chaos, Illinoisans were stripped of their right to make personal choices for themselves. As the era of COVID mandates finally ends, I can only hope that valuable lessons were learned about the use, and more importantly the abuse, of executive powers. As a State, we can and must do better!