City Fines Business For Pandemic Violation Under Liquor Code
Bloomington Liquor Commissioner and Mayor Tari Renner issued a $600 fine against Joe’s Pub for a violation of Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order banning indoor service to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Bloomington Police officer Nolan Arjona testified he saw patrons eating and drinking inside the G.E. Road establishment the afternoon of Nov. 28 when police did a compliance check.
Attorney Tom DeVore argued the city had no authority to use the liquor code to enforce the governor’s executive order because it is not a "regulation" as specified under the code.
“This body has no jurisdiction to impede the department of health’s authority to make a premises off limits to the public. It’s their jurisdiction only,” said DeVore.
City Attorney George Boyle contested the point, saying a plain language meaning indicates the order is a regulation. Boyle also cited Black’s Law Dictionary. He said the liquor commission can impose penalties for several non-liquor offenses including the commission of crimes, and illegal gambling inside such a business.
“The city’s liquor commission is under an obligation to cite licensees who do not comply with relevant health and safety regulations,” said Boyle.
DeVore called the city code enforcement a "ruse" used to address an outside issue.
Public commenters at the hearing said such enforcement is unjust because it treats businesses with liquor licenses one way and ones with food service only another way.
Renner acknowledged the structural imbalance between those two cases can create inequities, but he said the city has authority over liquor licenses and the health department has jurisdiction over food service establishments.
“We do have to protect public safety in the ways that are directed,” said Renner.
Renner said he also has sympathy for businesses hurt by the pandemic.
“Of course, this is a terrible situation and the vaccine can’t come fast enough. And most of the time we spend time trying to promote businesses to try to get us further, to try to have more jobs. This is not a fun thing for any of us,” said Renner.
Boyle said the range for the potential fine was $250 to $3,500. In choosing $600, Renner noted it was a first offense.
Previous violators who did not seek a commission hearing received lower fines than Joe’s.
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