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State could take steps to pull liquor licenses for businesses violating mitigations, but it's a complex process

The state has the ability to pull liquor and gambling licenses from bars and restaurants violating mitigation restrictions, but Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday he’s reluctant to do so.

Last week, Pritzker said the Illinois State Police could issue citations to businesses that do not follow the rules, and those businesses could face having their liquor and gambling licenses taken away.

“They will also be checking up on locations that may or may not be following the rules and reporting back. Those places will be subject to have proceedings initiated against them to remove their gaming license or liquor licenses,” he said.

The ISP has issued citations to some businesses after previously issuing a warning and dispersal order to those businesses, and proceedings could be started to revoke liquor licenses for “scofflaws,” those blatantly and repeatedly violating the rules, Pritzker said during a Monday news conference.

Those proceedings would start with a legal review of the investigation report, followed by a settlement process where there’s a compromise offer and a predisciplinary conference, said Michelle Flagg, spokesperson for the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

A prehearing process then would take place, followed by a hearing with a ruling. Businesses would be able to petition for a rehearing process.

Authorities also could temporarily revoke a liquor license “if the operation of the business will threaten the welfare of the community,” according to the Liquor Control Act.

Pritzker said he’s reluctant to revoke licenses, as they’re hard to get back.

“We all want to be supportive of businesses, but we also want them to follow the rules,” he said.

Dixon Mayor Li Arellano Jr., who serves as the local liquor commissioner, said that after consulting with the city attorney, there likely won’t be any action expected from local municipalities.

“More or less, there’s not any imperative for a city to act,” Arellano said.

There’s also the issue that some officials aren’t doing any enforcement, saying that the validity of the governor’s executive order is in question because it didn’t go through the legislature, so the process likely would bypass local authorities.

State liquor commissioners have deputized sheriff powers, so they’d be able to bypass county state’s attorneys, Arellano said.

Businesses must have a local and state liquor license to operate, and removing the state license could cause distributors to stop selling to that business, he said.

It’s difficult to tell what the exact ramifications will be; it will depend on what happens if and when the state pulls a license, Arellano said.

Businesses are having to choose between following the rules and closing down permanently.

“Some places are choosing between life or death right now, and as hard as it is for them, they’re going to fight for life,” he said.

Another concern is that businesses no longer can tap into the safety net of aid programs such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program, additional unemployment benefits and stimulus payments.

The Dixon City Council recently finalized a new small-business grant program offering up to $3,500 for bars and restaurants following the mitigation restrictions, and Pritzker is emphasizing that businesses may be eligible for some economic relief by applying for the Business Interruption Grants program through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Tighter Tier 2 mitigation restrictions for Region 1 went into effect Sunday. The increased mitigations continue to prohibit indoor service at bars and restaurants and limit restaurants to serving parties of six instead of 10 at outdoor tables. Gathering restrictions were reduced from 25 to 10, although that does not apply to schools or polling places.

The positivity rate for the North Region (Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties) sits at 12.8%, the highest of any region in the state. Mitigation restrictions were first triggered Oct. 3 after the region saw three days of positivity rates of 8% or higher.

To get back to the standard Phase 4 restrictions, the region will need to maintain an average positivity rate of less than or equal to 6.5% over a three-day period.

Both the West and South Suburban regions have been placed under Tier 1 mitigations by the Illinois Department of Public Health, meaning indoor dining and bar service are prohibited.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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