Defiant Illinois Businesses Could Face Misdemeanor Charge

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday defended his decision to potentially charge defiant businesses with a misdemeanor offense if they reopen too soon, saying it’s a more lenient approach than yanking a regulatory license and closing them down outright. 

Pritzker said his administration has given local law enforcement and prosecutors the discretion to issue citations to businesses that insist on disobeying the governor’s stay-at-home order. The power is granted through the existing state public health law, he said. The emergency rule was filed Friday but is subject to review by a legislative panel.

“There’s not an overreach here — in fact, it gives us a lighter enforcement mechanism than the ones that already exist,” Pritzker said during his daily coronavirus briefing.

The governor has faced mounting opposition to the pace of his plan to reopen Illinois amid the coronavirus pandemic. Downstate and suburban officials have argued the plan moves too slow for less-populous areas that don't have the number of COVID-19 cases that Chicago and Cook County face.

Pritzker has said defiant counties stand to lose disaster-assistance money. Businesses that are regulated by the state, such as taverns and bars, could face penalties, including liquor-license revocations, he has warned. The misdemeanor citation he has implemented can carry fines of between $75 and $2,500.

The governor said social restrictions likely will be eased in all regions of Illinois by May 29 if they can continue to maintain the right health metrics, such as low enough "positivity" rates yielded from the latest coronavirus tests.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Monday reported 2,294 new coronavirus cases, including 59 deaths. That takes the number of "positive" cases statewide to 96,485 to date; 4,234 people have lost their lives during the pandemic.

Also Monday, Pritzker addressed comparisons some protesters made between him and Adolf Hitler at a recent demonstration.

Pritzker, who is Jewish, said that crosses the line.

"Yes, I have to admit that I am worried about my family’s safety. You saw some of the signs. You saw some of the vehemence. People were carrying those signs with swastikas and pictures of Adolf Hitler.  References to me and my family.  Yeah.  I’m concerned.”