Daily Journal

May 29 is the expiration date of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s current executive order which keeps non-essential businesses closed and non-essential workers home. Though the governor has said the state as a whole appears to be on pace to move into Phase 3 of his reopening plan — dubbed Restore Illinois — many are waiting with bated breath to see if we make the transition.

But it appears Kankakee County Board Chairman and Liquor Commissioner Andrew Wheeler is done waiting.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Wheeler announced that all establishments currently holding a Kankakee County liquor license in good standing can open provided they are complaint with state reopening guidelines for outdoor dining.

“I am happy to announce that with safety protocols in place, our rural bars and restaurants have the local green-light to resume operations in an augmented fashion during this phase of the governor’s reopening plan,” said Wheeler.

Making “no assertion of the state licensing regulations,” Wheeler said that as long as a business operates according to the county’s liquor control code in a COVID-responsible fashion, they will have no issues with the County Liquor Commissioner’s Office.

As liquor commissioner, Wheeler said he is empowered by county code established by the county board to make such a determination.

“As I prioritize the work of this office, I can tell you that nowhere at the top of the list of work does it say ‘enforcing laws that do not exist,’” he said.

Pritzker’s allowance for outdoor dining is rather new, with its addition to Phase 3 coming just days prior to Wheeler’s creed. In earlier versions of the Restore Illinois plan, the reopening of restaurants and bars in any capacity wasn’t allowed until a later phase that likely wouldn’t come to pass until late June.

Wheeler said he encourages all bars and restaurants holding a county liquor license to take the state’s opening plan into consideration when considering their course of action. To those who wish to open, Wheeler has some advice.

“I strongly urge all business owners to make sure they check their insurance policies, the state liquor license and all county liquor ordinances,” Wheeler said. “It is the owner-operator’s obligation to make sure they are compliant in their outdoor operations. For instance, The Smoke Free Illinois Act, sanitary requirements and obstruction regulations all apply.”

To all, he says, “Please act responsibly, and remember that as consumers, we all have choices to make as well.”

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