November 30, 2020

Chicago Tribune

Enough excuses. Get to work General Assembly

When the coronavirus pandemic hit hard in March, it prompted shutdowns of schools, businesses, sports venues, national parks and other sites. Legislatures across the country halted sessions, the Illinois General Assembly among them. The suspensions were a justified response to a grave public health emergency.

But a crisis of this severity is no time for lawmakers to stop doing the public’s business altogether. More than two dozen legislatures across the country quickly moved to let members vote or participate in floor deliberations or committee meetings by virtual means. In Vermont, legislators have used Zoom for most of their business since March. New York’s lawmakers approved a budget remotely. But the Illinois House voted down this approach.

In May, it met at a Springfield convention center to allow members to socially distance in the interests of safety. But it canceled its fall veto session rather than meet in person or figure out a way to meet virtually. Senate President Don Harmon and House Speaker Michael Madigan said face-to-face contact would be too hazardous at a moment when the pandemic is surging across the state.

Have they not heard of this thing called Zoom?

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has declined to push the issue, even though he could call the legislature into special session at any time. He offered this blithe observation in April: “It is possible (for the General Assembly) to meet at any time. It doesn’t have to be today or next week, or even next month, it really could be at any time, and again, that’s up to the legislature.”

That was April, long before anyone could have known virus complications would stretch into winter. Meanwhile, the General Assembly has a host of matters that need its attention, including the state’s deepening fiscal crisis and the devastation caused by the virus. Members were elected to confront such problems, not to duck them.

It means Pritzker is making decisions on virus mitigation plans without the input of 177 elected members of the General Assembly. From shutdown plans to federal funding and borrowing, to vaccine distribution, lawmakers have been shut out.

Redistricting reform fell to the wayside — again. Badly needed ethics reform and state spending decisions have been on hold. And the top-down approach being used now cuts the public out of the access it normally has.

And a deadly spike of coronavirus cases at the Illinois Veterans Home in LaSalle is unfolding without the proper public airing of what went wrong. The Senate held a committee hearing on the issue, but the House Veterans Affairs Committee, led by Rep. Stephanie Kifowit who has pledged to challenge Madigan for his speaker post, has not met. The committee can’t meet because the members cannot meet virtually.

This is, normally, where leaders would step in and fix it. They have not. What a disgrace.

There is bipartisan pressure to get back to work. Remember, lawmakers are still getting paid their full salaries and building up pension benefits. State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, and Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, have been among those calling on Madigan to call a hearing of the House and Senate to discuss the status of the pandemic.

“Our idea is to do this immediately after Thanksgiving — with or without Madigan or Harmon,” Ford said. “The COVID virus is impacting everyone in the state, which makes it universal and not a partisan issue. That means all hands must be on deck.”

Remote operations are the simplest, cheapest way to allow legislative action while making deliberations visible to the public. As the Civic Federation noted, committee meetings had been replaced on and off with “working groups” holding virtual meetings. But those working group meetings were not required to be open to the public.

Moving to remote options should be a no-brainer. Public schools across the state have had to embrace remote learning. Plenty of offices have largely abandoned in-person operations in favor of directing employees to work from home if it’s feasible. All manner of conferences and conventions take place in cyberspace. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has abandoned in-person oral arguments and deliberations in favor of remote versions.

Those who reject virtual options, including, apparently, Pritzker, say that state law requires the legislators to meet “in the seat of government,” and says the governor may call a session “at some other place when it is necessary, in case of pestilence or public danger.” The novel coronavirus obviously qualifies as a pestilence.

It’s reasonable to argue that “some other place” means a physical site, which would rule out virtual sessions. But that’s why the two chambers should convene briefly — they should have months ago — to amend the law. A measure to make the change was voted down by the House last spring. But that was before any of us knew how long the coronavirus battle would take. It is not too late to reverse course.

As millions of Americans have learned over the course of this year, the threat posed by COVID-19 is too great to keep doing things the way they have always been done. But it’s not a justification for ducking responsibility or putting off important tasks. It’s an urgent reason for finding new ways to do what needs to be done. The General Assembly should quit stalling and get to work.


November 27, 2020

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

We need faith and perseverance

One of the words we’ve used far too often on this page in 2020 is “unfair.” Life is unfair. But we’re still empathetic with plenty of the unique messes people are dealing with.

But the things we’re asking one another to survive through are becoming increasingly unfair. Difficult. A tall order.

All of us have had experiences with that cruel officer, trainer or teacher. The one who always exhorts for us to complete “just five more” or “just 10 more” of a given exercise, but adds 5 or 10 more by the time we grunt to the accomplishment of the original number. The extra effort was good for us, but sometimes felt as though we’d been treated viciously.

But all appearances are that we are at last through the worst of COVID-19. We’ve felt as though we’ve been approaching breakthroughs a few other times this year, but never when talk of a vaccine has been present and apparently successful. Can we hold out these few more months and get to the end of it in one cracked but still together piece?

Again, that’s a tough ask. With everything we’ve sacrificed to the virus, it’s unfair to ask that we give it our last few weeks of the year, that precious time when families are at the top of the list.

And even at that point, it’s not as though the first person vaccinated will signal the long-awaited “return to normalcy.” There are the matters of finalizing the vaccine, distributing it to those who can administer the injections, and then waiting through the period where we find out its side effects and shortcomings.

What we need are faith and perseverance. Social distancing, proper hand-washing and masks remain the order of the day. We’ve put in this much work, we shouldn’t quit when we’re approaching the finish line of this most bizarre time of our lives.

2020 has been a miserable year in most ways. But unlike during World War II, the Depression or even the Spanish Flu, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As long as that light isn’t a train, we’ll be fine in just a little while.


November 27, 2020

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

As you prepare to 2020 holiday shopping, think local

The fate of your favorite small businesses rests in the palm of your hands.

You could take the easy way out this holiday season and just point and click on the omnipresent everything-in-one-place-two-day-delivery app on your cellphone and get all of your Christmas shopping done in an hour or two.

Who could blame you? After all, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s cold. You might have to put on real pants if you go outside.

Today -- Black Friday -- the time when businesses traditionally make a good chunk of their profit for the year, it’s important to remember that there is always a trade-off when you focus purely on convenience.

And that trade-off this year could very well be the extinction of some of your favorite mom-and-pop stores.

Sure, the national and regional chain stores should do well today on Black Friday and on Cyber Monday.

They have sophisticated websites that can handle lots of traffic.

But what of the small businesses that have nothing more than a Yelp review, a phone number and an address? Without people shoulder to shoulder in their shops, without a website where they can show you their wares and give you options for ordering online, many of them are at risk of closing up shop for good.

We are not suggesting you throw caution to the wind. The pandemic is real, and the infection rate is high.

But without your business in the next couple of weeks, odds grow that some of your favorite businesses will not make it much past the Christmas shopping season to see a day where COVID-19 is under wraps and we can walk unimpeded into stores.

Two weeks ago, we encouraged you to patronize your favorite restaurants -- those that have evolved to include takeout food -- to help them weather this storm. With the onset of winter and more stringent indoor dining restrictions established last week, that message is more important than ever.

The same goes for your locally-owned stores, galleries and more.

If they offer a safe alternative to the madding crowds, consider them for your holiday shopping. If you don’t know, give them a call. You won’t know unless you try.

In July the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did a survey that found 70% of small businesses were concerned about financial hardship due to prolonged closures and 58% were worried about permanently closing.

Sure, it means holiday shopping may be more challenging this year. But think of how rewarding it would be to buy a loved one a one-of-a-kind item, knowing that at the same time you are giving a small business a fighting chance at survival.

Small Business Saturday is tomorrow. Help your local businesspeople celebrate a happy new year.

Shop local.