Business owners who disregard a statewide stay-at-home order and reopen could now face a Class A misdemeanor under an emergency rule Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration filed late last week.

The new enforcement provision comes as the state nears the beginning of a third month under Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, which faces growing opposition.

Among the businesses the new rule targets are restaurants, bars, gyms and fitness centers, salons and barbershops, which have been ordered closed to serving customers on-site since March.

Under Illinois law, a Class A misdemeanor can carry a fine of $75 to $2,500.

In Pritzker’s reopening plan, the earliest any of the four regions of the state can advance to the next phase, when many restrictions are loosened, is May 29. To do so, a region must meet a series of public health bench marks.

All regions of the state are now on track to enter the third phase, when manufacturers, retailers, offices, barbershops and salons could reopen and fitness and health clubs could offer one-on-one training and outdoor classes, at the end of May.

Bars and restaurants wouldn’t be allowed to reopen until a region reaches the fourth phase in Pritzker’s plan. The earliest that could happen is late June.

Pritzker has said he would largely rely on local jurisdictions to enforce the statewide stay-at-home order that took effect March 21, and leave it to people to police themselves. At his daily briefing on April 23, the governor said he wasn’t “encouraging police officers to stop people and arrest them, or take drastic action.”

But last week, he threatened to hold back federal dollars from communities that buck his order, and said businesses that flout the restrictions would face enforcement measures by the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and licensing bodies.

The leaders of the Republican minorities in the Illinois House and Senate on Monday criticized Pritzker’s use of an emergency rule to allow businesses to be charged with a misdemeanor and predicted the rule would not stand a court challenge or make it through the rule-making process.

“I just think this is wrong. People think this is wrong. We can and need to unify ourselves to bring ourselves together. This is just more division,” said Senate GOP leader Bill Brady of Bloomington.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs likened Pritzker’s action to an attempt to change workers’ compensation rules to assume that coronavirus-related illnesses were work related. Businesses fought the change and a court struck it down.

“A court will throw it out. This goes beyond the scope of the Illinois Department of Public Health,” Durkin said, calling it “overreach” on the part of the governor.

In a news conference, Durkin also called on members of the General Assembly to seek an audit of the Illinois Department of Employment Security over its problematic handling of record numbers of unemployment insurance claims, as well as revelations that personal data had been leaked from a new system to deal with gig workers.

“The responsible bipartisan thing to do is to call for a performance audit within IDES based on how they have managed the unemployment insurance problem and also to look into how this breech occurred,” Durkin said.

“We have a responsibility to the public. This is not a partisan issue. This is something that both the leaders in both chambers should embrace. We just can’t rely upon one person saying that we’ve got it under control,” he said.

The Republicans also called for the Democratic majority to join with them and support removing from the Nov. 3 ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to impose a graduated-rate income tax system to replace the state’s currently mandated flat-rate tax.

The leaders cited the coronavirus and the uncertain fate of jobs and businesses post-pandemic. Pritzker, who has made the change his signature issue, has contended the graduated tax is needed “more than ever” because of the virus’s effect on state revenues and Democratic lawmakers have shown no desire to take the item off the ballot.


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