Assaulting a worker who's enforcing a mask requirement or other public health guidance can now be prosecuted as aggravated battery under a new Illinois law Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Friday.
Senate Bill 471 expands the legal definition of aggravated battery to add attacking a merchant who is performing job duties that include relaying health and safety guidelines or regulations during a state of emergency and for six months after a disaster is declared.
The public health guidance employees may be enforcing could include Illinois' statewide mandate requiring face coverings in public, or promoting social distancing and gathering limits, among other regulations health officials have implemented to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The new measure "offers protections from assault for retail workers, many of whom are tasked with asking the public to follow certain COVID mitigation measures indoors," Pritzker said at a news conference Friday. "In many ways, these workers are now serving at the forefront of public health mitigation efforts in encouraging social distancing and the use of face coverings."
The law also increases paid disability leave by 60 days for law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics, among others, whose recovery was hindered by COVID-19. Also eligible are employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections or the Prisoner Review Board, as well as anyone working within a penal institution, mental health or developmental disabilities facility operated by the the state's Department of Human Services.
That increase in disability pay applies to any injury that occurred after March 9, through the end of the year.
"Our essential workers put their lives at risk for us to stay safe, and it is clear that we have to continue to do better to protect working class people with a renewed commitment to providing basic rights for everyone," Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said in a statement.
The new law, which took effect immediately, was signed the same day Pritzker announced that the Illinois Department of Public Health would be filing a set of emergency rules to allow local law enforcement agencies and health officials more flexibility in enforcing regulations like the mask mandate or restrictions on gathering sizes.
The rules apply to businesses, schools and child care establishments, Pritzker said - changing the existing enforcement laws from he called "stringent and severe," like revoking a license for not complying, to a system with warnings and fines.
First, businesses in violation of the regulations will be given a written warning. On a second offense, they will be given an order to have some or all patrons leave the premises in order to comply with health guidance. Any business that refuses to comply for a third time can receive a misdemeanor and a fine ranging from $75 to $2,500.
Pritzker said that while many businesses already enforce the mask mandate, "there are some businesses that aren't doing that and they need to be reminded and reminded and then fined if they are not following this rule for the state of Illinois."
"This is one way for us to make sure that businesses that have been scofflaws on the subject know that there is a real penalty at the end of the line here," he added.
Pritzker said his administration planned to file the emergency order with the new rules Friday, though it will require approval from the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which meets next week.
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