Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Mask rule targets only the truly rotten apples

Business groups aren’t happy about new rules aimed at reducing incidences of people indoors without protective face coverings or gathered in crowds deemed unsafe. 

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules Tuesday couldn’t pass a motion to defeat the Illinois Department of Health’s emergency rules, prompting a flurry of press releases.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association: “Instead of cooperation and collaboration, the administration chose politics and confrontation … abandoning the partnership with retailers that has helped guide our state through this pandemic. While the administration preaches the importance of individuals wearing face coverings, they are clearly not interested in taking responsibility for their own orders. Instead, they are exporting their enforcement responsibilities to others and playing politics with the pandemic. Make no mistake: their actions have once again put retailers and their employees in harm’s way.”

Last week Gov. JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 471, which adds a penalty for assault or battery against retail workers asking customers to wear masks or maintain distance.

The Illinois Fuel and Retail Association: “We do not oppose a strong public push for wearing masks and taking other protective measures in the fight against COVID-19. Our stores have detailed policies in place to keep customers protected themselves and from others through masks, social distancing and more. These steps are saving lives. But requiring masks and punishing business owners, not customers, for not using them just doesn’t make sense. Businesses are struggling to open and stay open. We are not the problem, and yet again we are being treated as criminals. It’s not right, and it will not work.”

The rule has a three-step enforcement process, which law enforcement and county health departments will implement. First, a written notice of violation encouraging compliance. Second, an order to eject enough patrons to meet regulations. Only after those steps fail will a business be subject to a class A misdemeanor charge and possible fine from $75 to $2,500.

Whereas the trade groups claim persecution, Pritzker argued the tiered approach actually is “significantly less harmful to businesses” than the prior rules.

Businesses that permit smoking indoors get a $250 fine for a first offense. Individuals are fined $100 to $250, but the Smoke-free Illinois Act is permanent legislation.

IRMA CEO Rob Karr cited a “false narrative” retailers oppose masks. Yet people who are regular shoppers these days know the vast majority are compliant. The few businesses that do flaunt the rules are the rotten apples. Empowering local authorities to work with such holdouts is an effort to salvage the good ones in the bunch.

This rule, targeting the most persistently defiant, navigated proper channels. Ideally the full Legislature will consider a real bill, but this is progress, not oppression.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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