As southwestern Illinois counties pushing Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to relax stay-at-home measures, law enforcement agencies say they will continue to evaluate case by case when and how to enforce his executive orders.
Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, enacted on March 17 to counter the coronavirus pandemic, is set to expire on May 30. On Tuesday, the Madison County Board of Health approved a resolution signaling local businesses to begin reopening on a different set of guidelines. Other local leaders, including St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, formally requested the governor allow limited reopening two weeks earlier.
But during his daily COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday, Pritzker warned counties like Madison that funding could be withheld and individual business licenses revoked.
He also warned that if businesses violate his order, “local law enforcement and Illinois State Police can and will take action.”
The Illinois State Police enacted a six-step plan in case of enforcement it will continue to follow, said an ISP spokesperson.
“The ISP will act as community caretakers working to educate citizens and businesses about the shelter-at-home and essential-business-only provisions of the executive order and urge voluntary compliance,” said ISP spokeswoman Beth Hundsdorfer. “While the goal is voluntary compliance, citizens should be aware that non-compliance with the executive order can result in criminal and civil sanctions.”
The first step in the state police course of action is educating violators about the order, then providing a verbal or written notice to comply, Hundsdorfer said. Beyond the first two, there could be a sanction from authorities that regulate non-essential activity.
Then, if a business or organization refuses to comply, it could face civil liability, court-ordered closure or quarantine and in the most extreme case, criminal charges.
Though many Madison County municipalities have said they will continue to comply with Pritzker’s statewide order, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office is ready to act if businesses within those cities don’t.
“We can’t ignore complaints if we receive complaints,” said Capt. David Vucich. “We will work within the scope of the law, evaluate the totality of the circumstances and assess on a case-by-case basis.”
Vucich said that though the sheriff’s office has received complaints, those have been “very few and minimal.”
In Edwardsville, where multiple business owners told the BND Thursday they would comply with the executive order, Chief of Police Jay Keeven said he anticipates they will follow through with that.
“We have a great local business community who is very generous to us,” he said. “We are so close to the end of this ... it would put police in a hard position. We don’t want to have to take action against them.”
If someone does violate the order, Keeven said police would make sure they understand the executive order and document any infractions. Beyond that, he said the department would seek assistance from the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office if the situation called for criminal charges to determine the appropriate charges to apply.
On Wednesday, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said that the county board’s resolution “does not have legal effect,” meaning it offers no legal protection for business owners.
“It has no enforceability,” Gibbons said. “It can’t be enforced against someone. It can’t be enforced by someone. No business can take that resolution to court and win a case on it.”
The resolution does protect the county from legal liability, however, because it does not force anyone to abide by its guidelines, Gibbons said.
Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, who led the reopening effort, said Gibbons’ interpretation of the resolution is “completely untrue,” arguing the resolution is legally binding. He did note, however, that the county is ready in the case of egregious actions to defy the order.
“We do have criminal law for those people who are very irresponsible,” Prenzler said Wednesday. “We are going to be on the lookout for folks and if we have situations that are unsafe, we will use the full power of the Board of Health to shut a business down or to quarantine people.”