Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is aggressively defending a new rule implemented by his administration that would allow for businesses to face Class A misdemeanor charges if they open in violation of the state’s ongoing stay-at-home order.
Under the new rule, put into place by executive action on Friday, businesses could face misdemeanor charges if they do not comply with orders to remain closed. If convicted on the charges, businesses would face fines between $75 and $2,500.
Despite the order being blasted as an executive overreach by some Republican lawmakers, Pritzker insists that it’s actually less punitive than other measures that could be used as an enforcement tool.
“Before today, a restaurant or a bar that refuses to comply after communication from law enforcement or even after a cease-and-desist letter, the state can revoke the business’ liquor license or impose a closure order from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Those are expensive measures from a business to come back from. They’re not preferred by anyone, least of all me,” he said.
“This additional enforcement tool, this citation is less harmful to a business than a total shutdown or a loss of license. It gives local governments and law enforcement the ability to do their job.”
Pritzker said that the rule can only be used when a business violates the order, and “cannot be used to regulate individual conduct,” such as refusal to wear facial coverings in public and other violations of the stay-at-home order.
The governor also said the rule would have no impact on the “99 percent of Illinois businesses that are following” the state’s reopening plan.
No businesses were cited under the new rule, according to Pritzker.
The new rule sparked backlash over the weekend, as Republican lawmakers criticized it as an executive overreach by Pritzker, especially with the legislature set to go back into session.
“These rules are a legal overreach and beyond the scope of the governor’s authority,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement over the weekend. “It will be a dark day in Illinois when we charge small businesses with a jailable crime for salvaging their livelihoods.”
The governor dismissed those concerns, saying that the rule falls under the auspices of the Illinois Department of Public Health Act, which makes any violation of an IDPH health order a Class A misdemeanor.
“It’s in the law today,” he said. “It’s in the Illinois Department of Public Health Act,” Pritzker said. “There’s not an overreach here, and in fact, it gives us a lighter enforcement mechanism than the ones that already exist.”
While Pritzker says his administration is serious about enforcing the stay-at-home order, he says the best way for the order to be successful is for businesses to abide by it, especially with the likelihood that many businesses will be allowed to reopen at month’s end under the phased reopening plan.
“I’m very interested in reopening businesses across the state in a safe and healthy fashion, and we’re on our way to being able to do that,” he said. “There are people who are endangering people in their own communities, and we want to be able to give local officials and local law enforcement the ability to do what they need.”
Currently, all of Illinois will be eligible to move into Phase Three of its reopening plan by June 1, which would allow non-essential businesses, including hair salons and spas, to reopen with capacity limitations and safety procedures in place.
Restaurants would not be allowed to open to dine-in service until Phase Four of the plan, which currently can’t go into effect until at least June 26.