A new emergency rule allows law enforcement to charge “nonessential” business owners with a misdemeanor if they do not follow the restrictions in the governor’s executive orders.

The Illinois Department of Public Health Act states those who violate IDPH regulations can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Under the new administrative rule citing that law, nonessential business owners who flout the current restrictions could face up to a year in prison and a fine as high as $2,500.

Attempting to downplay criticism of the rule Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the law criminalizing violations of state public health regulations is not new.

“It doesn’t establish a new misdemeanor. The misdemeanor is already in the law, so it was simply a change of rules,” Pritzker said during his daily press briefing.

Pritzker said the rule change is a less harsh alternative to IDPH revoking a liquor license or forcing the business to close.

“We don’t want to have to shut a business down. What we really want is for people that comply. And we want to give them this type of citation as an alternative,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker’s administration filed the new rule late Friday, amending a section of the Illinois
Administrative Code that deals with public health.

Republican lawmakers, including House GOP Leader James B. Durkin, claimed the new rule is an overreach by the governor.

“This goes beyond the scope of the Department of Public Health,” Durkin said in a Zoom press conference on Monday. “This rule is wrong. Legally, I believe it will be challenged, and it will be thrown out by the court in due time.”

Senate GOP Leader Bill Brady echoed Durkin’s assessment during the press conference.

“I just think this is wrong, people think it's wrong,” he said. “This is why we need to have hearings in Springfield about the reimplementation plan.”

Rep. John Cabello (R-Machesney Park), who is suing Pritzker over his stay-at-home orders, blasted the governor in a statement that referred to him as a “dictator.”

“The greatest danger today from the COVID-19 is the alternative universe that is being created here in Illinois,” Cabello said in the statement. “People are resisting because they view the Governor’s Restore Illinois plan, and his general approach to the COVID-19 health crisis, as a hodgepodge of arbitrary rules and restrictions placed on citizens and businesses by a hypocritical leader.”

The Joint Commission on Administrative Rules, a 12-person committee that oversees emergency rules, is meeting on Wednesday.

Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), who serves on JCAR, said in a Facebook post that he plans to vote against the rule when JCAR reviews it this week.