Pritzker threatens to use state police against businesses reopening early

Pritzker threatens to use state police against businesses reopening early

Polling has found the vast majority of Illinoisans support reopening small retail businesses.

Desperation is growing for Illinois small business owners who have gone nearly two months without customers, so Madison County’s health board voted to reopen the county with strict guidelines. Now, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is threatening to deploy the state police and local law enforcement against businesses that defy his executive order.

“Businesses and individual professionals who are licensed by state agencies will be held accountable for breaching public health orders,” Pritzker said at his Wednesday press conference. “Counties that try to reopen in defiance, may not be reimbursed by FEMA for damages they cause because they ignored the law. Local law enforcement and the Illinois State Police can and will take action. There is no consequence the state could impose that is greater than the harm you will do to your own communities.”

This is a noticeable shift from the tone Pritzker has struck throughout the pandemic. He has previously stressed it will be up to local officials to enforce the stay-at-home order. Now, it appears the governor is ready to exercise his state policing powers.

State and local police can work together to enforce orders given under emergency powers. Section 7 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act allows the governor to issue a proclamation declaring a disaster for a situation such as a viral pandemic, allowing him to exercise the emergency powers authorized in the act for a period of up to 30 days.

Madison County was allowed to open on May 13 with strict guidelines created by the county health department consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and similar to Phase 3 of Pritzker’s plan. In that phase, gatherings cannot exceed 10 people, restaurants and gyms can open with 25% capacity and churches can open at 50% capacity. Places such as salons do not have capacity restrictions.

The problem for Pritzker is Madison County is two weeks ahead of his guidelines. His plan says no region of the state can open prior to May 30. Dining-in wouldn’t be permitted until at least the end of June. Pritzker believes those going forward with their own plans are choosing to ignore the data.

“One hundred ninety-two Illinoisans lost their lives to this virus in the past 24 hours,” Pritzker said. “How is that not real to you?”

Positivity rates in the Southern Region of Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan have been trending down since May 1. All benchmarks appear to have been met in the first 14 days of May to allow the region to move on to Phase 3, except for the requirement that hospitalization rates be measured over a 28-day period.

While Pritzker may choose to enforce his executive orders through the state police, 75% of Illinois residents believe it is time to let small businesses open with social distancing measures in place. Big box stores have been allowed to continue operations as long as they sell essential items. This makes it even harder for small retail stores to compete in the market. These businesses could enforce social distancing better than any big box store that has hundreds of customers at a time.

“We have the opportunity to clean in between each person,” Denetta Flamingo said of her gym in Ottawa, Illinois. “The big stores, yeah, they wipe off a cart. But when you touch a product, who touched that before you? They’re gonna wash off all their products, too? Our gym is sterile, clean and always has been.”

There is no reason small businesses cannot open their doors if large stores are allowed to. By keeping them closed, Pritzker is shutting down the engine of Illinois’ economy and the livelihood of so many of the state’s residents. Small businesses have created 60% of Illinois’ jobs since the Great Recession.

The associations for Illinois’ retailers, manufacturers and other businesses said Pritzker did not consult with them before he crafted his plan. Now, it appears the governor is willing to do more harm to businesses by deploying law enforcement against them.

Businesses opening and complying with social distancing requirements are trying to get people back to work in communities still struggling from the crisis. Madison County leaders took matters into their own hands to find an appropriate balance between public health and the county’s economy. Pritzker’s threat of force against businesses trying to be safe and survive lands him somewhere between tone deaf and authoritarian.

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