(The Center Square) – The vast majority of Illinois small businesses want COVID-19 liability protection and a check on the governor’s unilateral authority, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.
NFIB Illinois State Director Mark Grant said nearly 98 percent of respondents to a recent survey want the state legislature to give them liability protection.
“It’s really hard, I think, for folks to determine clearly that someone received or got COVID from a particular work site,” Grant told WMAY.
State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, had a measure he filed last year that was never heard. He plans to file it again. He said it’s not just small businesses that would benefit from COVID-liability protection. Taxpayers would benefit too.
“You go talk to your superintendents, you go to talk to your mayors and your county board members, and all these other folks, everyone thinks this is a win-win,” Plummer said.
Plummer said his measure could make Illinois a leader by bringing about much greater economic recovery. The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association disagreed.
"Consumers don’t want to shop or dine in establishments that may try to cut corners on safety, nor do staff of these businesses want to work without the confidence that everything reasonably possible has been done to keep everyone safe and healthy," said Larry R. Rogers, Jr., President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. "Any proposal to give sweeping liability immunity to businesses will increase infection rates, make consumers and staff less safe and prolong the pandemic because businesses will be allowed to act unreasonably knowing they are immune from accountability."
Plummer questioned how serious the legislature is about the needs of businesses, saying during the lame-duck session that concluded the previous term, majority Democrats gave the trial lawyers a “giveaway” in a bill allowing restorative 9 percent interest on injury claims.
“I think that they hold significant sway,” Plummer said. “We’re trying to come out of this very difficult time and instead of addressing COVID-related things in lame-duck we did a giveaway to the trial lawyers and now here’s a very common sense thing that trial lawyers don’t like but everyone else does and we can't even get a conversation on it.”
The NFIB survey also found that nearly 79 percent of small businesses that responded believe the state Legislature should clarify the powers of a governor in declaring emergencies.
“That’s why we have the three branches, and that’s what the legislature is there to provide some accountability,” Grant said. “I think we’re going to see something here in the next session on this.”
Plummer said he’s filing a measure addressing that issue too. He said his measure would limit the governor’s power to only two consecutive 30-day executive orders before the legislature must get involved.
“That has nothing to do with J.B. Pritzker, I don’t care who the governor is, they need to govern with the General Assembly not out there on their own,” Plummer said.
House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, recently told a political blogger he plans on the House providing a check on the governor’s authority, though it’s unclear how that will pan out.