SPRINGFIELD (The Center Square) – For the next five months, Illinois business owners and their employees are required to tell customers to wear a mask or they could face fines of up to $2,500.
Despite Republicans who wanted to suspend the rule because they said it could still criminalize business owners, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s fines for businesses that don’t comply with mask and social distancing requirements amid COVID-19 concerns survived a rule committee.
After an hour behind closed doors, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules met to take up Pritzker’s rule that will levy a $2,500 fine against a business for not complying with the mandate.
State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said the rule is different than what was filed and universally opposed in May.
“And that was largely because of a provision that would allow for the jailing of an individual if they violated the rule,” Cunning said. “That was the main point of the objection.
He thanked the administration for removing that aspect of the rule.
The administration said only businesses will be fined. Republicans said many times a person is the small business.
The governor’s legal counsel Ann Spillane said the measure also differs from the rule filed and later repealed in May by giving a tiered approach to punishment with education, a warning and then a fine of up to $2,500. That’s something she said could be done by local public health officials.
“But once you get to the point of saying ‘I think we’ve gone through these steps and we’re now at a misdemeanor point,’ that requires a law enforcement officer and ultimately a state’s attorney and a court,” Spillane said.
State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said the governor circumvented the legislature by filing the rule and creating a tiered approach that could lead to criminal charges.
“This is not going to make more people wear masks,” Schimpf said. “In fact, I think this is going to cause people to dig in their heels a little bit more.”
Schimpf said the governor should get the consent of the people and call a special session to deal with pandemic-related issues instead of issuing unilateral mandates.
Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s Rob Karr, whose group was among the first months ago to put out public service announcements about the importance of masks, said the rule requires businesses employees to stick their neck out for the mandate.
“This rule requires us now to have that interaction,” Karr said. “It is clearly putting employees and retailers at risk and the [Pritzker] administration now owns that responsibility.”
Pritzker said the mandate is about health and will give local government more enforcement mechanisms to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Emergency rules are good for 150 days from when they are filed. This rule was filed Friday.
Reporting by Greg Bishop
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