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Bill expanding emergency powers for Illinois state agency advances

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(The Center Square) – A measure now in the Illinois House says the Illinois Emergency Management Agency would be able to do “all things necessary, incidental, or appropriate for the implementation” of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act.

Opponents of Senate Bill 3434 said Illinois’ emergency authority continues under the Pritzker administration and giving more power lacks proper oversight. State Sen. Win Stoller, R-Germantown Hills, said the bill grants extraordinary power to the department’s rulemaking authority and bypasses the legislature.

“The language of the bill says the agency shall do ‘all things necessary, incidental or appropriate for the implementation’ of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act, including the adoption of rules in accordance with the Illinois Administrative Procedures Act. That’s a lot of power that the department is looking for and it begs the question, ‘Why is all that necessary?’” Stoller said. “It was mentioned in committee that sometimes you need to trust the department to do the right thing. If there’s one thing that makes me nervous it’s when the government says ‘trust us.’”

Between February and August 2023, an IMEA executive assistant appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker accounted for $240,761.30 in billings, double the salary of her boss. Pritzker appointed Alicia Tate-Nadeau in 2019 to lead the state agency overseeing pandemics, natural disasters and an influx of migrants. Her assistant, Amy Gentry, earned more than Tate-Nadeau in less than a year.

Stoller said sometimes there are emergencies that require quick responses, but there’s already a mechanism in place where the governor can declare 30-day emergency declarations and disasters.

“He [Pritzker] has done that. In fact he’s done that quite a lot. We currently have an asylum declaration for asylum seekers and that’s been going on for over two years,” said Stoller on the Senate floor. “In fact, under Pritzker we have been under continuous declarations and it is my opinion that the governor has been abusing this authority, bypassing the legislative process.”

The ongoing migrant disaster declarations that began in August 2022 come after more than three years worth of COVID-19 disaster proclamations that started in March 2020.

Stoller said emergency powers are supposed to be short-term in nature and that the legislature is inherently more accountable to voters and closer to voters than the governor.

“My constituents have a lot easier of a time contacting me than they would the governor,” said Stoller. “We are certainly more accountable than the governor’s unelected bureaucracy in the executive branch.”

Instead of continued declarations under Pritzker and passing SB3434 giving additional authority to IEMA, Stoller said it’s the role of the legislative branch to step in and debate policy and adopt policy.

State Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, introduced the measure.

“IEMA handles emergency management and I think what we are trying to get addressed in this bill is as those incidences come up and as things happen we want to be able to have the authority to be able to move with flexibility and move swiftly,” said Villanueva.

The measure passed the Illinois Senate last week and can now be taken up in the Illinois House.

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