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State’s Attorney reviews 43 failure to comply notices against local businesses

Businesses that are ordered to close but remain open can face civil hearings or criminal charges
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 1:39 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - The Winnebago County Health Department ordered dozens of businesses across the county to close as they remain noncompliant with COVID-19 restrictions.

The majority of those businesses are bars and restaurants. Some establishments have more than one closure notice, others have up to seven. The Health Department first issues violation notices. If the entity does not fix the issue, the WCHD issues a notice to disperse. All businesses with a notice to disperse are scheduled for a Public Health Pandemic Emergency Rule Enforcement Hearing from the WCHD. If businesses don’t attend the hearing, or fail to implement a corrective plan the WCHD issues a closure order.

WCHD officials tell 23 News Reporter Courtney Sisk there have not been any hearings as of November 19.

The question is, who oversees the issue once it reaches the point of a closure order?

According to Section 8 of the Department of Public Health Act, 20 ILCS 2305/8, the Health Department sends the notice to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney for review and action.

“My goal was to work with businesses to be compliant and remain financially solvent,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn-Hite Ross says.

Hite-Ross’s office currently has 43 failure to comply notices to review. The first notice came across her desk October 21, and since then none were dismissed, and none were charged.

“What it says to me is that despite the nation having lost more than 251,000 lives to a disease that is preventable, we might have individuals in our own community that are not complying,” says Hite-Ross. “That’s very concerning.”

There are two options when it comes to reviewing the notices against local businesses.

“One would be on the civil realm where you would actually go to court and ask the civil judge to close the business,” she explains. “The other track is the criminal track where you would actually file charges, which is a Class A Misdemeanor against the business through the business owner.”

While closure remains in the hands of the State’s Attorney, other repercussions could come from the City. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says the City will issue tickets up to $750 a day for those entities that don’t follow Tier 3 Mitigations. He also says there is a possibility that liquor licenses could be in the balance.

“Right now for the strength of our entire county we all need to step up to these really difficult, and quite honestly awful decisions,” says McNamara. “You’ve been educated, you’ve been aware, we are at a crisis level.”

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