By GREG BISHOP, The Center Square
Illinois business owners found guilty of violating the governor’s stay-at-home-orders could land in jail for up to a year under new emergency rules filed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker late Friday, two months into his executive response to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Under executive orders issued by the governor, restaurants haven’t had dine-in guests since March 16. Pritzker then issued an executive order March 21 closing all businesses to the public that he considered nonessential. The order was extended twice, from April 7 to April 30, and now through the end of May.
Pritzker has insisted local and state police will enforce his orders, but also empahisized they’d educate and seek voluntary compliance. The governor has also said someone could be charged with reckless conduct for violating his orders and that he has the power to revoke state business licenses and withhold tax money from local governments.
The governor’s extended executive orders have been challenged in court from multiple individuals and groups as the Legislature has refrained from clearing the ambiguity over whether Pritzker’s emergency authority can be extended beyond a 30-day period. There have also been areas of the state in the past month in which local elected officials have said they would not enforce the governor’s orders.
The rules filed Friday add to the state’s public health laws and include a section called “Pandemic or Epidemic Respiratory Disease – Emergency Provisions.” It says restaurants can’t have dine-in, certain retail can only do curbside sales, gyms must stay closed, and salons and tattoo shops can’t operate during a pandemic.
“Businesses and establishments located in airports and hospitals are exempt from the requirements of this Section” for food and drink businesses, the rules states.
State Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, who is suing the governor over his extended executive orders, said the timing of the new rules is interesting as more people say the governor has exceeded his authority.
“You got state’s attorneys, you got Illinois sheriffs saying, ‘we are not going to prosecute, we are not going to do this,’ and I think it’s his way of trying to get people back under control while his family is still in Wisconsin and Florida and other places not following the orders themselves,” Cabello said.
The governor has been criticized for ordering Illinois residents to stay at home while his family has traveled between Pritzker homes in Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois.
“It’s unfortunate that the Administration felt the need to do this because I think it will likely make the situation worse,” said Mark Grant, Illinois state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “We’ve seen a variety of communities, businesses, lawmakers and groups such as mine, ask for greater flexibility in the re-opening of parts of Illinois in a responsible way. This act, filing emergency rules, seems to double down on the Governor’s stubbornness to ignore anyone outside of his inner circle.”
“We would have preferred a measured and fruitful dialogue among government, municipalities and the business community,” Grant said.
The Joint Commission on Administrative Rules could block the emergency rules at its upcoming meeting, which is scheduled May 20. If the rules aren’t blocked, they’d be in effect for 150 days.
There also is likely to be court challenges.
Last month, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission filed a rule that would make a business liable if an employee gets COVID-19. The employee wouldn’t have to prove where they got it.
A group of employers sued to block the rule, saying such a major policy shift that would impact all businesses must be deliberated on and passed by the Illinois General Assembly. The motion for a temporary restraining order against the rule was granted by a Sangamon County judge.
Any person who violates the emergency rules, the latest rule filing says, could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor by local authorities, which could lead to up to a year in jail.
Cabello said there seems to be a real disconnect with the administration.
“We’re letting murderers and rapists out but now we’re going to put business owners in jail and charge them with a Class A misdemeanor if they decide that they need to provide for their family,” Cabello said.
Cabello has been critical of the governor releasing inmates from prisons early as part of efforts to limit their exposure to COVID-19.
Cabello expects the governor’s executive orders to be overruled in Clay County Court Friday through state Rep. Darren Bailey’s case challenging the orders. It’s unclear what that would mean for the rules filed Friday.
Downstate rep critical of new rules
Of the new rules, state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said: “Governor Pritzker has gone too far, enough is enough!”
“I find it disgusting this governor will try to lock up mom and pop business owners just trying to feed their families and pay their bills while his family travels around the country and he continues to let rapists and murderers out of jail!” he said in a statement. “Who would have thought he was planning on using those cells for people paying taxes.”
The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan legislative oversight committee could block the emergency rules at its upcoming meeting on May 20. If the rules aren’t blocked, the emergency rules stay in effect for 150 days.