As COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the state, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker now wants to crack down on businesses that don’t require customers or employees wear face coverings.
He’s introduced a new state rule that would punish businesses or organizations that don’t enforce the state’s mandate that people wear a face covering while in public or limit gatherings to no more than 50 people in a room.
“This is a make or break moment for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said while revealing his policy proposal on Friday morning. “For making sure people are doing everything they can to mitigate, to reduce the spread and so this is a moment for us to enforce the masking requirements across the state.”
Pritzker’s announcement comes as the state’s public health agency put 13 counties on warning for exceeding at least two indicators that measure the amount of COVID-19. Those counties are Cass, Coles, Grundy, Iroquois, Jackson, Monroe, Perry, Saline, St. Clair, Tazewell, Union, Williamson and Winnebago.
A statement from the Illinois Department of Public Health notes that each of those locations saw outbreaks associated with businesses, long-term care facilities, large social gatherings and out-of-state travel.
The state reported 2,084 new cases of COVID-19 that were confirmed over the last 24 hours. It’s the highest single-day total number of cases since May 24.
Under Pritzker’s proposal, a business would first get a warning if they don’t comply. If further infractions occur, the company could face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $2,500.
Individuals are not affected by the rule change, meaning customers who refuse to wear a mask while grocery shopping won’t be cited --- just the business that allowed them to do so.
The rule still needs to be approved by a bipartisan state panel. That panel meets next week.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, immediately poured cold water on Pritzker’s suggested rule change, calling instead for the governor to convene a special session of the legislature.
“I am committed to respecting his priorities while recognizing the undue hardship his current rule places on businesses that are already struggling across Illinois,” Durkin wrote in a statement.
Pritzker is lobbying for this rule change as an alternative to the stricter measures already on the state’s books that call for the revocation of a business’s license for not complying with public health rules. For instance, Pritzker says the state’s only way right now to punish bars or restaurants that don’t comply with the face coverings mandate is to pull their liquor license.
But a group representing Illinois retailers says Pritzker should turn his attention toward customers who refuse to wear a mask and not “demonize innocent businesses.”
“This proposed rule lacks 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 of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
Earlier this year, Pritzker chided state legislators who never took up his proposal to impose fines of up to $2,500 and face up to a one-year sentence behind bars to businesses that ignored his public health guidelines. At the time, he said legislators who had asked for more input on the state’s pandemic response but wouldn’t take up a sensitive measure like this was a “ complete abdication of responsibility.”
Legislators did, however, approve a measure that would enhance the criminal penalties for customers who harm store employees who confront non-mask-wearing customers. Pritzker signed that bill into law on Friday.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him @tonyjarnold.