Risky travel wrought by snow, wind cancels legislative work

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois General Assembly canceled its three scheduled days of session this week as the central part of the state prepares for a major winter storm expected to bring heavy snow, ice and high wind gusts to the region.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon and deployed the Illinois National Guard, State Police and 1,800 snow plows and other equipment for the onslaught predicted to last through Thursday.

Lawmakers have become well acquainted with canceled session days in the state Capitol because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but not due to weather, which halted in-person work on Tuesday through Thursday.

“The winter storm warning says travel will be dangerous and we do not want to put people’s lives at risk while they’re on the road to and from Springfield,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat, said in a statement.

The postponement is especially noteworthy because Wednesday was set aside for a joint legislative session to hear the Democratic governor deliver the annual State of the State address and propose a new state spending plan.

State law requires this year’s budget plan to be delivered to lawmakers on the first Wednesday in February. Pritzker’s staff announced Tuesday afternoon that instead of the House chamber, he would deliver his address at the historic Old State Capitol, about four blocks east of the current Statehouse in downtown Springfield.

The National Weather Service said that rain and sleet were expected on Tuesday night, before turning to freezing rain and snow with an accumulation of as much as 7 inches (18 centimeters) by Wednesday morning. Up to 8 more inches (20 centimeters) of snow is predicted on Wednesday and 5 inches (13 centimeters) on Thursday, accompanied by winds of 16 to 18 mph, gusting as high as 33 mph.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will coordinate the state’s response from around-the-clock operations in Springfield, Pritzker said. He has activated 130 National Guard soldiers and air personnel. They will comprise 18-member platoons traveling in high-mobility vehicles and a heavy-duty wrecker to assist stranded motorists and back up Illinois State Police patrols.

“All state assets stand ready to assist,” Pritzker said. “I encourage everyone to do what you can to stay safe: Listen to local authorities to stay up to date with the latest conditions in your community and make sure your household has essentials.”

Officials strongly discouraged travel but said if it’s necessary, fill up the gas tank; pack the car with warm clothes, water and other essentials; drastically reduce speeds and don’t pass tow trucks — the road ahead of them will be in far worse condition.

Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park said lawmakers will continue working through remote committee meetings, a process developed because of the pandemic.

The Democrat said lawmakers “look forward to a break in the weather and a safe return to the Capitol hopefully next week.”


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