Editorial: Let's open restaurants, here's how we get it done

Open restaurants
Hundreds of Illinois restaurant owners struggling to stay afloat around the state are willfully defying state laws and ordinances to stay in business amid pandemic mitigation guidance from Governor J.B. Pritzker. On November 4, the governor banned indoor dining and drinking, as well as put caps on the number of customers in stores and limits on gatherings to 10 or fewer people hoping to curb growing number of COVID-19 cases around the state. While customers are not allowed to enjoy a meal inside the establishment, the state did not prohibit carryout and delivery service.

For a number of businesses in the food service industry already in delicate financial straits, which could have been avoided with a coordinated nationwide mitigation plan similar to New Zealand and Australia, without indoor dining their livelihood and sweat equity may evaporate into thin air.

Some businesses, like the FoxFire Restaurant in Geneva, sought relief in the courts after they were forced to closed and its food handling licenses pulled by the local public health department. In a friendly circuit court, FoxFire was granted a temporary restraining order by Kane County Judge Kevin Busch on October 26 because, in his opinion, Governor Pritzker had violated state law exceeding his legal power to issue an emergency order for a period longer than 30 days.

Later, on November 5, the 2nd District Appellate Court overruled a Kane County judge’s decision. In the reversal, the appellate court noted "that nothing in (the Emergency Management Agency Act’s) language precludes the governor from issuing multiple disaster proclamations — each with its own 30-day grant of emergency powers — arising from one ongoing disaster." Fortunately, for restaurants the appellate court’s order was issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which says reversal cannot be cited as precedent in other cases, except within a limited scope. The appellate court's decision only applies to this case.

It has been an either-or proposition by restaurateurs and by the state with neither side willing to go to the table and find middle ground. The state and expert epidemiologists say bars and food establishments is strong vector for the spread of the Coronavirus while business owners say their are being unfairly targeted. There is middle ground, and for small businesses to survive the pandemic both sides need to seek compromise.

The state is in a position to let bars and restaurants operate normally again. Well, almost.

We propose the General Assembly or the governor, by way of executive order, reward restaurants that follow the state's public health directives and remain closed to indoor seating with a sales tax exemption until the state or region returns to 100% occupancy. Customers will be billed a convenience fee, retained by the business, equal to what would have been the normal sales tax on the order. Any business that backslides and allows an occassional guest or party to eat in their establishment loses their exemption for 30 days.

Furthermore, restaurants want to open for indoor dining be open at 100% capacity can go right ahead. Yes, there's a pandemic going on, we know but hear this out. Here's how it would work:

The Illinois Department of Public would issue food establishments offering indoor dining would post a green dot to be posted on the door or a window near the front entrance for recoverees to easily identify. Restaurants would collect and remit an additional 5% in sales tax to supplement tax revenue from mitigation compliant owners. Customers who tested positive for Coronavirus and recovered or have received vaccine treatment would be allow to utilize dine-in services by displaying their CV19 card, which would certify they were infected, quarantined and recovered from the COVID-19 virus.

CV19 cards could be state IDs with a green or orange background issued by the Secretary of State with confirmation of infection from the hospital where they were tested and treated or a confirmation of vaccination. In Champaign County that would make just over 12 thousand people eligible to eat in participating bars and restaurants along with another 832 thousand residents from around the state. There are nearly one thousand new cases each week in Champaign County alone. Oh, no card? No indoor service.

Our plan is an obvious win-win-win-win.

Restaurants and bars that want to stay open can remain open with no restrictions other than the CV19 card, offer full service and keep employees working. As a quasi-consolation prize, individuals who were infected and since recovered can enjoy a sit-down meal at their favorite particpating restaurant or spend hours on the dance floor. The state benefits from the tax revenue during the mitigation period while businesses following public health mandates are rewarded keeping their communities just a bit safer.

Really? Was that so hard?