State Watch

Illinois business owners could face fine, jail time for reopening in defiance of coronavirus restrictions

Business owners in Illinois could now face a Class A misdemeanor charge for opening their establishments in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home order. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) on Friday filed an emergency rule that would penalize owners of restaurants, bars, gyms, barbershops and other businesses for reopening before coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

In Illinois, a Class A misdemeanor charge can carry a fine of up to $2,500 and a maximum jail sentence of one year. 

The emergency rule is an “additional enforcement tool for businesses that refuse to comply with the most critical aspects of the stay-at-home order,” Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for the governor, told The Hill. 

“Law enforcement has relied heavily on educating business owners about the order and always first discusses the regulations with business owners to urge compliance,” Abudayyeh said. “Only businesses that pose a serious risk to public health and refuse to comply with health regulations would be issued a citation.”

The governor’s office said that the rule will help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus by codifying restrictions for potentially high-risk environments.

Pritzker administration general counsel Ann Spillane added to The Associated Press that the rule change was “very mild, like a traffic ticket.” 

“Nobody’s getting arrested or handcuffed,” Spillane said. “But they are getting a citation where they would have to go to court.”

State legislators on a bipartisan oversight committee will reportedly have the opportunity to review the new rule on Wednesday. 

The change prompted pushback from Republican legislators, including state Sen. Dan McConchie. McConchie, a member of the Senate Public Health Committee, said on Twitter that it was “an affront to the separation of powers.”

“Legislatures make laws,” he said. “Governors enforce them. Period.”

Pritzker has extended the state’s stay-at-home order through the end of May, though he has allowed retail stores to offer curbside service. The Illinois Department of Public Health had reported more than 94,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and about 4,100 deaths from it as of Sunday. 

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus led to a wave of stay-at-home orders throughout the nation that shuttered schools and nonessential businesses. The closings devastated the economy, with more than 30 million people filing unemployment claims since mid-March. 

Several states have begun to allow businesses to begin gradually reopening under modified conditions.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has allowed restaurants to operate with reduced capacity, but he has continued to keep bars, night clubs and live concert venues closed.  

Many bars and restaurants reopened in Wisconsin last week after the state Supreme Court struck down the extension of Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) stay-at-home order. However, many counties in the state have instituted restrictions of their own that mandate bars stay closed. 

The patchwork of different measures comes as President Trump pushes for states to begin reopening. 

“Will some people be affected badly? Yes,” Trump told reporters earlier this month. “But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon.”

–This report was updated at 1:35 p.m.

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