(The Center Square) – If a measure headed to the governor gets signed into law, being found guilty of battering a grocery store clerk trying to enforce pandemic public health guidelines could result in a sentence of two to five years in prison.

During debate of the measure in the House, there was bipartisan support and opposition.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, ran a COVID-19-era labor bill that touched on firefighters and even unionizing horse racing workers.

State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, defended an aspect of the bill pertaining to charging someone with battery if they go after a merchant trying to enforce public health guidelines such as wearing a mask or face covering in a public place. He said it was clearly needed after he talked to a clerk at a pharmacy in Springfield.

“And we talked about what he has to go through reminding folks on a daily basis to follow the guidelines and how many times he’s the recipient of foul language and near attack,” Evans said.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, supported the move, but noted it was inconsistent with Democrats who have opposed other penalty enhancement measures in the past, such as one Republicans have pushed for to enhance penalties for people convicted of attacking child welfare workers.

State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, said increasing the penalties for someone who Hoffman said could go off on a grocery store worker told by their manager to enforce public health guidelines like wearing a mask during a pandemic.

“I personally believe they should be prosecuted,” Hoffman said.

“That’s an existing crime they can be prosecuted for,” Stava-Murray said.

“Just vote no, it’s OK, the world will keep moving on without you,” Hoffman said. “If you don’t want to help the people who every day are on the front lines.”

“I do want to help people every day on the front lines and the laws that exist already do that,” Stava-Murray said.

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, opposes penalty enhancements. She said they fill up prisons and take money away from healthcare and education.

“And nothing good came out of this,” Flowers said. “I think it should be incumbent on the store owner to hire the proper protection.”

She also criticized the measure because it was only temporary during a pandemic, but could lead to up to five years in prison.

Several other Democrats either didn’t vote for the measure or voted present, including state Reps. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana; Kam Buckner, D-Chicago; LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago; and Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside.

While many Republicans voted for the measure, state Reps. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; Tom Bennet, R-Gibson City; Randy Frese, R-Quincy; Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville; Margo McDermed, R-Mokena; Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee; Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford; and Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City voted against it.

Despite the bipartisan opposition, the measure passed and could be sent to the governor for his approval soon.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.