By Maria Maxham
Forest Park businesses can be fined up to $2,500 if employees or customers aren't wearing masks, according to a village announcement on Aug. 13. The measure is based on new Illinois rules cracking down on business enforcement of masks and providing a process of graduated enforcement, which starts with a written warning.
On Aug. 11, the state's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to uphold Governor J. B. Pritzker's rules regarding mask enforcement in Illinois businesses. Eight opposing votes would have been required to overturn the rule; six votes were against it and five in favor, predictably along party lines, with Republicans voting against and Democrats for.
The rules provide a process by which local government can enforce mask-wearing in restaurants, bars and other businesses, a process that starts with a written warning and can escalate to hefty fines for non-complying establishments.
But according to Village Administrator Tim Gillian, Forest Park would probably start at the lowest end of fine guidelines, $75, and work its way up if a business repeatedly ignored warnings.
"I can't see us ever getting to $2,500," Gillian said. "And under no circumstance would we start out at a fine that high." He added: "Our goal is compliance, not punitive measures."
According to the law:
- Anyone over the age of two and medically able to tolerate a mask must wear a face covering over their noses and mouth when in public and unable to maintain six feet of social distance. This applies both to indoor and outdoor areas, although patrons at restaurants can remove their masks when eating or drinking. Individuals, however, will not be penalized for failure to wear a mask.
- Businesses are required to ensure that employees and customers over the age of two wear a face covering at all times. Patrons can remove masks when eating and drinking, but businesses "must require face coverings at all other times," according to the emergency amendment.
- Businesses must make "reasonable efforts" to require customers to wear masks. This might include posting signs about mask-wearing, providing face coverings to customers, giving verbal warnings to customers or requesting customers not in compliance to leave the premises.
Businesses that fail to comply will first be given a written notice of non-compliance. This will include a "reasonable opportunity" to remedy the situation. "Reasonable opportunity," according to the emergency amendment, depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the activity taking place, whether the activity is being conducted indoors or outdoors, the public health risk, and the number of individuals at risk of exposure.
Examples of actions a business might take include the prompt distribution of face masks or placing an employee at the entrance to limit the number of people entering until occupancy is in compliance. Enforcing entities may observe until compliance is achieved or return at a later date depending on the time period provided to allow for compliance.
After a written warning, if the business still doesn't comply with the mask mandate, a written order to disperse may be issued by the village.
Finally, if it is determined that the business isn't complying with the order to disperse, the business may be fined.
In Forest Park, police and/or an official from the Department of Public Health and Safety "will be conducting random premise checks to assure compliance with the new law and all current guidelines," according to the memo from the village.
The memo states, "It is not the intention of the village to assess fines. We will make multiple attempts at compliance before citations are issued."
Other current restrictions remain in place, including tables in restaurants being spaced at least six feet apart, a maximum of 10 people allowed at a table, standing area capacity limited to 25 percent of occupancy, and gatherings must be limited to 50 people or less.
On Friday, Pritzker OKd a measure that adds a penalty for anyone who assaults an employee enforcing the use of masks. Such assaults can now be prosecuted as aggravated battery, often a felony, instead of battery.
In a statement, the governor's office said, "This provision sends the message that it's vitally important for workers to be both respected and protected while serving on the front lines."
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