Springfield, IL - The earliest Illinois can move into the next phase of the state's reopening plan is June 26, but business owners across the state have grown impatient. Many have opened their establishments in defiance of Gov. JB Pritzker's executive orders. Their attorney says there's no way to enforce the guidelines because they aren't laws.
Tom DeVore is working on six lawsuits across the state, including Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) and the owner of a tanning salon in Clay City. But he is constantly getting calls from business owners reopening against the governor's guidelines. DeVore says he's helping nearly 250 businesses that are defying the order.
"Unfortunately under this particular set of facts, we had well meaning people - and I'll say that about the governor even - that went way too far. Way too far beyond what the law allows them to do and people don't really want to just accept that from the beginning," DeVore said.
For example, The Scoreboard Bar & Grill in Quincy opened its doors on May 11. The owner received a cease and desist order from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission and she closed back up. "To me, our governor is not doing his job," Judy Huff said. "Our governor is becoming a bully and a tyrant. Let us open, give us back our livelihoods. It's uncalled for."
However, The Scoreboard decided to reopen for indoor dining this week. Illinois Liquor Control Commission Spokesperson Terry Horstman says the ILCC could impose fines or revoke the liquor license. Phase Three guidelines state businesses in violation may be subject to additional regulations from local officials.
Many mayors, police, and health departments aren't enforcing the order. In fact, DeVore says only two public health administrators have alerted businesses he represents.
"When the time comes that enough pressure is put on and the people of this state have had enough, these restrictions that we're seeing in our bars and restaurants will miraculously at the flip of a switch become recommendations."
DeVore calls the orders "restrictomendations" since the state doesn't have a definitive way to enforce them. That has opened the doors at some swimming pools across the state, including two club pools in Quincy that opened early in Phase Three. The Illinois Department of Public Health says pools can only be open for swimming laps, diving, lessons, swim team practice and therapy use. While some private pools are open for members, public facilities remain closed.
Pritzker administration responds
As of Friday, the state hasn't revoked any licenses for disobeying the guidelines. Pritzker's Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh says businesses should comply with the public health guidance to keep patrons healthy. She explained businesses violating the orders open themselves up to liability if customers get sick.
"Throughout the pandemic, Illinoisans have worked together to stay healthy and ensure COVID-19 didn’t overwhelm our healthcare system. For those businesses that have decided to ignore the public health experts, we’ve had DCEO, local health departments, IDPH, and the Illinois State Police conduct educational visits to inform them of the current rules and guidance," Abudayyeh stated.
"If businesses continue to operate in violation of the Restore Illinois Plan, various state regulatory agencies can pull professional licenses needed to conduct business, which is a last resort."
What would you do in this situation?
Since DeVore calls these guidelines hollow, the Capitol Bureau asked what the attorney would have done differently if he was in Gov. Pritzker's role.
"When we have times of emergency or times of crisis, there's one thing that we have to fall back on. If we don't fall back on it, we have anarchy. It's the law," DeVore said. "If the law isn't sufficient, we change it."
DeVore notes he isn't a medical professional, but he says this isn't the first time Illinois has dealt with an novel infectious disease. The attorney references the typhoid fever of the early 1920's as an "unprecedented" situation. He feels state officials shouldn't describe the COVID-19 pandemic as unprecedented, even though it is a novel virus for every country.
"We cannot have people in positions of authority, even if they mean well, not following the law. That sets the stage for some time in the future for someone in a position of authority, that doesn't mean well, to not follow the law. We can't set that standard of deviating from the law if there's a certain type of emergency."
The attorney argues emergency rules for elected officials are "far more dangerous" than any virus.
Abudayyeh disagrees with DeVore's assessment. "The courts have repeatedly sided with the public health expert on this, seeing as Mr. DeVore has only won in one court and has always given up before appeal – every other judge has upheld the State’s public health actions."