Illinois Governor Withdraws Emergency Rule Criminalizing Business Owners

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces that three more people have died in the state from from Covid-19 virus, two Illinois residents and one woman visiting from Florida, during a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) on Wednesday opted to withdraw the harsh emergency rule his administration filed last Friday, which criminalized business owners violating his stay-at-home order.

The emergency rule had noncompliant businesses facing a Class A misdemeanor for reopening against the governor’s orders — an action that could have carried jail time or a fine of up to $2,500. A Pritzker spokesperson, at the time, described the rule as an “additional enforcement tool for businesses that refuse to comply with the most critical aspects of the stay-at-home order.”

The governor faced a slew of backlash and, while he has continued to defend the sentiment of the rule — praising it for giving “more flexibility” in the enforcement of his orders —  he is urging the legislature to come up with a measure “with the same intended mechanism in a phased manner in line with the Restore Illinois plan.”

“Enacting this measure through legislation will allow us to have these tools throughout the Restore Illinois plan versus an emergency rule that would be withdrawn and rewritten at the start of phase three and then phase four,” Pritzker explained.

It quickly became clear that Pritzker’s emergency rule lacked teeth, as his administration’s general counsel, Ann Spillane, admitted that “nobody’s getting arrested or handcuffed.”

“But they are getting a citation where they would have to go to court,” Spillane stated.

Additionally, the Illinois State Police released a statement, clarifying that the department would not “issue any criminal misdemeanors to individuals for violations of temporary emergency rules or executive orders.”

“The Illinois State Police will only apply those emergency rules to entities such as corporations, LLPs or other business entities consistent with state and constitutional law,” the department stated, stressing that officers would not arrest an individual for violating the governor’s executive orders or emergency rules.

“We encourage all citizens to continue to do their part to maintain public health as we move forward in the days ahead with Reopening Illinois,” the department added.

Republican state Rep. Steven Reick, who serves on the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR), said his office received a surge of feedback from residents, expressing resistance to Pritzker’s rule.

“He’s got executive authority to issue his orders, but the fact is that if he really wants the public support he needs to bring the General Assembly into this process so that we can exercise our right to represent our constituents,” Reick said, according to the Center Square.

Another Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Dave Syverson, described the withdrawal of the rule as a “big win.”

“The idea of criminally charging small business owners for trying to stay open to support their families was something the Senate Republicans strongly opposed,” he said.

“This was a big win on our first day back in Springfield,” he continued. “I am glad that, with the help of a large public outcry, we were able to defeat this rule change.”

Other Democrat governors have struggled in enforcing their severe lockdown measures, losing the battles in the courts — like in Wisconsin — and among local authorities.

A handful of district attorneys in Pennsylvania, for instance, have stated that they will not prosecute businesses reopening against Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) orders — a decision that even Wolf admitted he would not challenge.

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