Illinois businesses can be fined for not enforcing mask wearing and crowd limits under an emergency rule from Gov. JB Pritzker that survived a hearing by the JCAR panel last Tuesday.
An attempt to block the rule from taking effect failed in the bi-partisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The six Republican members of the committee all voted to stop the rule, but their attempt fell short, needing eight votes to pass.
Administration officials said the rule will give authorities another tool by which to press people to wear masks in public to control the spread of the coronavirus. They said it is particularly important as the state is seeing an uptick in cases of COVID-19 since the state more fully reopened its economy at the end of June.
Republicans on the panel said the rule still puts unfair pressure on businesses to enforce the mask mandate. They also said the rule conflicts with existing state law and legislation should be enacted by the full General Assembly to address issues connected with the coronavirus pandemic.
Pritzker said that “local governments now have an additional way to keep their communities safe.”
“The vast majority of our communities and business owners are doing what’s right,” Pritzker said. “These rules will provide multiple opportunities for compliance before any penalty is issued and will help ensure that the minority of people who refuse to act responsibly won’t take our state backward. These rules will ensure there is a commonsense way to enforce public health guidelines with an emphasis on education first so that Illinois can continue to make substantial progress in our fight against COVID-19.”
The Illinois Fuel and Retail Association, which represents gas stations/convenience stores, said the rule will make doing business in Illinois more difficult.
“We do not oppose a strong public push for wearing masks and taking other protective measures in the fight against COVID-19, but requiring masks and punishing business owners, not customers, for not using them just doesn’t make sense,” said CEO Josh Sharp. “We are not the problem and yet again we are being treated as criminals. It’s not right and it will not work.”
The rule is a revision on one Pritzker tried to get approved in May to put some teeth into the requirement to wear masks and take other steps to control the spread of the virus. That rule was headed to defeat in JCAR when Pritzker abruptly withdrew it. Several lawmakers said they were concerned that business owners could face jail time for not enforcing the anti-virus rules.
The administration revamped the rule to eliminate jail time, but to preserve the potential for fines after a business is given two warnings. The first is a warning that the business isn’t enforcing guidelines for wearing masks and limiting crowd sizes and that it must comply. The second is a written notice that some customers must leave the premises for violating mask or distancing rules. Finally, continued violations can result in fines of $75 to $2,500 and a Class A misdemeanor charge.
Republicans on the oversight panel said the rule puts an unfair burden on businesses. Many area representatives said their offices was inundated with hundreds of emails and phone calls from business owners concerned with how they would be able to comply with the rule. Others stated they wanted to comply but wanted direction from their local governments, health departments, and law enforcement on how to do it correctly.
Pritzker’s general counsel Ann Spillane said the administration made changes from the original proposal in May and would consider alterations to the rule in the future, but that it is important to get a rule in place.
“We think as we’re seeing numbers tick up now, it’s a very critical moment and it’s important to have this in place,” she said.
Spillane said the administration heard from law enforcement agencies that said a rule like this would be a help when officers are asked to break up large gatherings or address mask wearing.
The new version of the rule also makes it clear that different establishments face different circumstances, she said. A tiny story with one clerk on duty can’t do the same kind of enforcement as a larger store. Also, the earlier version made it appear that full compliance was required.
Illinois reported 2,264 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and there are now 14 counties including Moultrie County listed at the warning level for a resurgence.