After months of rancor and rebellion, Illinois House follows Senate in removing mask mandate

After months of rancor and occasional rebellion over a mask mandate on the Illinois House floor, representatives voted Tuesday to lift the requirement, one day after the state Senate announced it was making masks optional.

The moment the 104-1 vote was recorded in favor of making masks optional, several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took off their masks.

The amended rules still allow for the reinstating COVID-19 protocols “as needed and dictated by circumstances by the speaker of the House after consultation with the minority leader,” said Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who proposed the resolution. House committee meetings will continue to meet remotely or in a hybrid format, Harris said.

Though in favor of lifting the mask mandate, Springfield Republican Rep. Tim Butler said he would continue to oppose making House rules based on orders from the governor.

The House previously required masking, temperature checks and social distancing as long as disaster proclamation from the governor was in effect. Many Republicans have accused Gov. J.B. Pritzker of abusing his emergency powers to impose sweeping COVID-19 protocols.

“We are ceding our responsibility as a separate branch of governor by relying upon an executive order of the governor to institute anything,” Butler said. “We as a body can make those decisions on our own.”

The debate over masks has been ongoing not only in the legislature but in schools across the state, and heated up as Pritzker announced he would lift the statewide mask mandate Feb. 28 but would still require them in schools.

After a temporary restraining order, appeal and ultimately bringing the issue to the Supreme Court, Pritzker ultimately dropped the school mask mandate the same day as it was removed for rest of the state, following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The sole dissenter to Tuesday’s rule change in the House, Rep. Lakesia Collins, has ardently opposed lifting the mask mandate.

On Feb. 17, Collins, a Chicago Democrat, requested a motion that representatives either don masks or leave the floor, which ultimately resulted in nine GOP lawmakers being ejected from the House floor.

GOP lawmakers had been asking all week for a vote to change the House rules — even at one point pausing the session’s proceedings so every person on the floor to have their temperature checked to prove a point that the protocols were being “arbitrarily enforced” — though no such vote was taken prior to Tuesday.

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Several of the lawmakers removed from the floor in February participated virtually over the next few weeks instead of wearing a mask to participate in House proceedings in person.

Senate President Don Harmon’s office sent an announcement Monday afternoon, lifting the mask mandate in Senate areas of the Capitol, adding that wearing a mask is still “strongly encouraged.” People are still required to show proof of a negative PCR test within the last 72 hours before entering Senate areas.