Pritzker again pushes criminalizing businesses for failing to follow his COVID-19 orders

Pritzker again pushes criminalizing businesses for failing to follow his COVID-19 orders

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is again turning to criminal penalties to gain compliance with his coronavirus mandates. He is targeting small business owners for mask violations.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is making a second attempt to criminalize business owners who fail to enforce his mask rules, despite a previous failed attempt. He again is pushing so law enforcement can use criminal fines up to $2,500 to enforce his emergency orders.

Under Pritzker’s new rules, mask enforcement would be directed at businesses – not individuals. The businesses would be punished if their customers or staff were not wearing a mask after repeated warnings.

“They need to be reminded and reminded and then fined if they are not following this rule for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said Aug. 7.

Pritzker’s order “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,” said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “If the goal is to put public health above politics, the administration will amend the rule to focus enforcement efforts on individuals who are not complying instead of punishing and attempting to demonize innocent businesses.”

Pritzker’s emergency order takes a three-step approach to gain compliance with the mandate he issued May 1 requiring masks to be worn inside all public places. First, businesses will receive a written warning for failing to comply with the order. If they don’t comply, customers would be asked to leave the business for public health reasons. If that still does not work, businesses can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and receive a fine up to $2,500.

Pritzker said he did not want to punish people for not wearing masks, which is why his rule applies to businesses and not individuals.

In Sangamon County, both the county health department and city of Springfield have already begun fining businesses $250 for improper social distancing or failure of their employees to wear masks.

Linda Johnson, owner of Village True Value in Western Springs, said business owners should not be treated like criminals for the actions of individuals.

“We definitely, absolutely, support individuals wearing masks. That goes without saying. But if the governor believes individuals are not complying, I believe the enforcement should be on the individual. We can’t control what they do,” she said.

This is not Pritzker’s first attempt at imposing criminal penalties to get people to follow his orders.

Pritzker on his own in May amended Illinois Department of Public Health rules so business owners could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, including up to a year in jail, for violating his closure orders. He made the change without consulting the Illinois General Assembly.

The rule never took effect, however. Pritzker withdrew the order hours before a vote May 20 when it was clear he didn’t have the support of the state lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, which has oversight of such rules. Significant public backlash caused many lawmakers to quietly abandon support for Pritzker’s moves, and the legislative session ended without him being able to get lawmakers’ backing for any criminal penalties to add teeth to his executive orders.

Now, JCAR will again be asked to pass Pritzker’s proposal on mask compliance when it meets during the week of Aug. 10. Eight of the 12 lawmakers must vote to reject the rule to keep it from taking effect.

The COVID-19 economic downturn and Pritzker’s mandates have already left workers and businesses damaged, with more than 1.5 million unemployed and $86 billion lost from the Illinois economy. Pritzker is looking to add more pain Nov. 3 by pushing his “fair tax,” which would impose tax rates up to 47% higher on more than 100,000 small businesses in Illinois that create the bulk of the state’s jobs and are struggling to remain afloat.

Taking a heavy-handed approach with the business community left Pritzker licking his wounds once. The 12 members of JCAR will decide whether he goes back to the drawing board once again.

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