Sosnowski removed from House floor over legislature's self-imposed mask rules


Illinois State Capitol. Photo: Yinan Chen

By Grace Kinnicutt

SPRINGFIELD (Capitol News Illinois) – The Illinois House voted to remove nine Republican members, including ours, from the House floor Thursday afternoon for their refusal to comply with face covering requirements, delaying the start of the legislative session for the third straight day

The other Republican legislators followed the House rules, passed at the beginning of the pandemic, which require all members to wear a mask unless they are eating, drinking or speaking into the microphone.

In a 66-39 vote, Democrats voted to remove Reps. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, David Welter, R-Morris, David Friess, R-Red Bud, Chris Miller, R-Oakland, and Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport.

Rep. Joe Sosnowski currently represents Roscoe and Rockton in Illinois Legislative District 69, though after redistricting, these communities will be in Illinois Legislative District 90. Rep. Andrew Chesney hopes to represent the Stateline area in Illinois Senate District 45.

While most of those nine lawmakers chose to participate remotely after that action, one, Tony McCombie, remained on the floor, unmasked, without incident for the remainder of the Thursday session.

McCombie said when she was close to others, she asked if they would be more comfortable if she wore a mask. But the floor mandate was too far-reaching.

“Mind your own business, mitigate your own risk,” McCombie said.

The removed GOP members were accompanied by most of their caucus upon exiting the floor, and they went to a private caucus meeting for about an hour before mask-compliant members returned.

The motion for the GOP removal came from Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago.

“If you choose not to wear your mask, do that outside of the chamber,” Collins said. “But while we’re in here, I ask that you respect the chamber’s rules, wear your masks, and get the work done.”

“We’re not sitting over here and telling you to take off your masks. We’re merely asking you to respect us as we respect you,” Niemerg said.

The unmasked members speaking on the floor criticized what they called Democratic hypocrisy, citing the fact that Democratic members are frequently seen out in public at fundraising events without masks.

House minority leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called on Democrats and Republicans to act with “civility” after receiving a letter from House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch about a week ago regarding the chamber’s need to “be more civil and work more collaboratively together.”

Durkin noted that while the removal of members is within the House rules, it is a “very serious sanction,” and does not help the situation.

“It does not put me in a frame of mind that there is still a place for civility where we can actually have an honest discourse between both sides of the aisle,” Durkin said.

Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, noted that the main frustration among Republicans the past few days is there have been two votes to remove Republican members from the chamber, but the body has not yet taken a vote to impose COVID-19 mitigations beyond what has been put forth in executive orders from the governor.

“I find it pretty unfortunate that this is the second vote we’re having to remove members of the body and we haven't taken one vote or held one hearing on the governor’s mitigations,” Batinick said during floor debate. “You guys have chosen to abdicate your duty to provide oversight. Live with it.”

Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, said the House should make its own rules regardless of influence from the governor’s office.

Rep. Seth Lewis, R-Bartlett, a freshman lawmaker, said he joined the rest of the GOP caucus in leaving the floor when his colleagues were asked to leave.

“I believe in masks, so wearing one is not a problem,” he said in an interview after the vote. “But at the same time, to kick out members of the caucus, we're part of the Republican team.”

The controversy has gone on for several days. To open the session Wednesday, Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, who was among several GOP members refusing to wear a mask though not one removed on Thursday, requested an immediate vote on a resolution he sponsored to lift the face covering requirement. Majority Leader Greg Harris, who was presiding over the chamber, denied the motion saying it did not have unanimous approval.

Caulkins then requested for all members of the House to be removed in accordance with the COVID-19 mitigation requirements, since they also require members to submit to a temperature check prior to entry. No such temperature checks were being performed Wednesday, however.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

In other news, an appeals court declined to block the temporary restraining order against Gov. Pritzker's school mask mandate, so schools are free to set their own rules, just as the Illinois General Assembly has.

By Greg Bishop

SPRINGFIELD (The Center Square) - Later in the day, attorney Thomas DeVore, who has a temporary restraining order against the governor's mask mandates in schools, filed suit against House Speaker Emanual “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, in Bond County Circuit Court. The lawsuit, DeVore said, is on behalf of his state Rep. Blaine Whilhour, R-Beecher City, who was ejected, and himself as an individual.

“Speaker Welch has no authority whatsoever to place quarantine measures on the peoples’ representatives to keep them out of that chamber,” DeVore told The Center Square. “It doesn’t even make any sense.”

Welch’s office didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

After being ejected from the chamber, ejected members were able to take part remotely when the House reconvened. At least one lawmaker, state Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, was prevented from voting on a resolution in person. She said her key was removed and she wasn't allowed to vote.

More about mask rules:
Appeals court denies Governor Pritzker his school mask mandate

Mask-optional policy at Hononegah extends to teachers and staff

Legislative panel suspends school COVID mitigations, though Rockton and Roscoe were ahead of them

Both Rockton and Kinnikinnick vote to make masks optional

School boards plan special mask policy meetings tonight

Kinnikinnick Board calls Feb. 14 meeting to approve COVID plan

Rockton School Board will discuss changing mask plans on Monday night

Gov. Pritzker expects indoor mask mandates to end Feb. 28, but not for schools

Editorial: Why every school district in Illinois didn't drop their mask mandates

Schools in Roscoe and Rockton handle judge's mask ruling in very different ways

Hononegah: Masks highly recommended but no longer required

Judge limits mask mandate at Hononegah, at least temporarily

Judge reconsiders mask mandates, including Hononegah and Prairie Hill

Hononegah will continue to require masks, pending judge's ruling

Parents voice opinions on wearing of masks at Hononegah Community High School Board meeting

Hononegah begins school year, all together, three feet apart

Nine Republican legislators were removed from the House floor on Thursday, Feb. 17, after several days of refusing to wear masks. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Grace Kinnicutt)
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