Pritzker addresses punishment tier for businesses who defy executive order

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A woman looks at signs at a store closed due to COVID-19 in Niles, Ill., Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO, Ill. (WCIA) — Gov. JB Pritzker today addressed a new emergency rule his office filed on Friday that makes reopening a business a violation of an Illinois Department of Public Health regulation, meaning those who do so could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

Pritzker positioned the quiet decision to codify violations in that manner as one that gives law enforcement an additional “tool” to enforce the Stay-At-Home order that doesn’t result in revoking an establishment’s food or liquor permits immediately. Critics have called it an overreach of the governor’s executive powers.

“It was a tool for law enforcement,” Pritzker said Monday. “We were working on it during the week, we issued it on Friday. It’s something that doesn’t establish a new misdemeanor; it’s simply a change of rules.”

Included in the enforcement measures available to the state should a business open preemptively are the ability to revoke a business’ liquor or food permits, or public health can issue a closure order.

“Both are expensive measures to come back from and they’re not preferred by anyone, lease of all me,” Pritzker said. “The citation causes less harm to a business than a total shutdown or a loss of a license, and gives local governments and law enforcement the ability to do their job.”

Similar measures were announced by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who said that restaurants who open for dine-in early “will risk receiving a citation” that could ultimately lead to a loss of liquor licenses.

And in Minnesota recently, state attorney general Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against a chain of bars and restaurants that announced they planned to reopen before the state’s COVID-19-related executive order permits them to do so. The AG’s office there is seeking permanent injunctive relief and civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation.

Of the emergency rule filed Friday, Pritzker said that “many other states have had enforcement tools like this but not Illinois — until now.”

He added that he is not aware of any attempts to issue such a citation in the few days that the emergency rule has been in place.

Locally, multiple business types have already tried — or succeeded to some extent — to open prior to May 30.

The Zone in St. Joseph attempted to reopen despite a cease-and-desist order from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District; a judge issued a temporary restraining order until the May 21 court date.

In Douglas County, multiple restaurants opened to dine-in customers last week; State’s Attorney Kate Watson said her office did not plan to prosecute businesses who do so.

And in Macon County, a Blue Mound bar held a party despite a cease-and-desist letter issued by the county’s department of public health. In response to a question from WCIA on Monday, State’s Attorney Jay Scott said that IDPH “and, when applicable, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission and the Illinois Gaming Board” are being notified of local violations of the executive order.

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