Gov. J.B. Pritzker issues rule to penalize businesses that don’t enforce mask requirements with fines up to $2,500

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, declaring Illinois is at a “make or break” moment in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, issued new emergency rules to require businesses and schools to enforce his mandatory face mask rules or face the prospect of being fined.

The new rule, which got a mixed reception from business leaders, comes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stage a resurgence in Illinois. The state’s daily count of known coronavirus cases last week topped 2,000 for the first time in more than two months, officials said.

The department also listed 13 counties at “warning level” for a coronavirus resurgence, based on key metrics it uses to monitor cases and the potential for spread.

Area counties triggering a warning who have exceeded one of the state’s eight risk indicators for increasing cases when they surpass 50 new cases per 100,000 population in a given week included Douglas, Moultrie, Coles, Champaign, Iroquois, and Vermillion counties according to the state’s most recent update. Cases in both Douglas and Moultrie have doubled in the last 30 days.

The new rules from IDPH provide multiple opportunities for compliance before any penalty is issued, giving local health departments and local law enforcement more leeway to support community public health in a productive manner, according to a press release from Pritzker’s office.

While existing, pre-pandemic enforcement laws, like revoking a license, are stringent and severe, these rules provide flexibility for local communities and a measured process to help keep people safe.

The three-step process is as follows:

•First, businesses will be given a warning in the form of written notice and encouraged to voluntarily comply with public health guidance.

•Second, businesses that do not voluntarily comply will be given an order to have some or all of their patrons leave the premises as needed to comply with public health guidance and reduce risks.

•Third, if the business continues to refuse to comply, the business can receive a class A misdemeanor and be subject to a fine ranging from $75-$2,500.

“They need to be reminded and reminded and then fined if they are not following this rule for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said at a news conference Friday in Chicago.

“We want to make sure that our workers are safe, and also all the people who are shopping are safe, all the people who are in bars or restaurants or in other locations, we want to make sure they’re safe and healthy and this is one way for us to make sure that businesses that have been scofflaws on this subject know there is a real penalty at the end of the line here.”

Pritzker said individuals are not subject to penalties for not complying with the mask mandate.

The new rules set out a three-step process that give businesses two chances to comply before they’re hit with a fine.

“Look, I’ve said all along I do not want for police to be arresting people or penalizing individuals,” Pritzker said. “On the other hand, I’ve asked local authorities including police, including local health authorities, to remind people as frequently as they possibly can that they need to follow this mask mandate.”

Some businesses said they weren’t worried about potential penalties because they’re strictly enforcing mask rules…“No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service”, while others have no intention of enforcing the latest mask ruling.

Opposition to the new rule also came from area lawmakers stating this new rule places “undue hardship” on businesses already struggling from the pandemic. Many are asking the governor to call them back into session to address continuing COVID-19 issues and the ongoing ethics crisis in regards to the Commonwealth Edison investigation involving Illinois House of Representative Speaker Mike Madigan.

“It would be catastrophic to shut down our economy once again. It would be the death of the hospitality industry here in the state of Illinois,” said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, whose members have been hit hard by restrictions put in place because of the pandemic.

But Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, criticized the new rule, contending in a statement that it “lacks in common sense and is a slap in the face to the thousands of retailers who have sacrificed so much during this pandemic while actively supporting ever-changing health and safety guidelines adopted by the state.”

The entire state has been in the fourth phase of Pritzker’s reopening plan since late June, but the governor has repeatedly warned that regions where the COVID-19 metrics show a resurgence could go back to stricter rules aimed at slowing the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Prior to a four-day, pandemic-spurred special legislative session in May, Pritzker’s administration filed a controversial emergency rule with a legislative rule-making body that would have made businesses that flouted the rules in his reopening plan subject to a Class A misdemeanor.

Pritzker withdrew that rule amid pushback among legislators because it made jail an enforceable option against business owners that failed to abide by the governor’s emergency actions. That prompted some local prosecutors and law enforcement to choose not to enforce them. Pritzker said he wanted to make clear that enforcement would ultimately be through fines, not jail.

The difference in the new rule is that it “focuses on warning and then a fine,” Pritzker said Friday.

“What’s available to us in the law is only essentially a misdemeanor immediately as a solution to the problem and that was something that JCAR (Joint Committee on Administrative Rules) did not want us to move forward with,” he said. “And so we made alterations. We’ve spoken with many members of the General Assembly, including members of JCAR.”

JCAR was scheduled to meet this week to consider the new enforcement and fines.

Pritzker said Friday the administration withdrew the earlier emergency rule this spring “because the legislature said they would take it up in session.”

“They didn’t do that. And now, there are a variety of reasons they didn’t do that. Now is the time. This is a make-or-break moment for the state of Illinois for making sure people are doing everything they can to mitigate, to reduce the spread,” Pritzker said. “And so this is a moment for us to enforce the masking requirements across the state.”

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