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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Pro-mask ad campaign best we can do to supplement toothless mandate

Wear a mask.

That’s my advice, and it cost a lot less than $5 million to put it in front of your eyes.

Of course, I’m just a lowly newspaper columnist, not a state with a $42.8 billion annual budget, which is why it wasn’t me but Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday announcing a new $5 million advertising campaign encouraging Illinoisans to wear face masks to minimize COVID-19 spread.

Pritzker doesn’t want you to worry about where the money is coming from — federal coronavirus relief — and although he didn’t put forth projections, it’s not hard to position this as an investment in prevention aimed at curbing the escalation of public health costs.

No amount of spin would satisfy the anti-mask crowd. We won’t rehash those arguments here — any Facebook comment thread more than suffices — but it’s enough to note this initiative isn’t so much about making the factual case for the importance of mutual responsibility and more about the challenges of governing through a pandemic.

Illinois has mandated masks indoors and outdoors where physical distancing isn’t possible since May 1. But without penalties, compliance is optional.

Pritzker explained he asked the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules “to consider a rule that would impose fines when people are not requiring masks to be worn. They didn’t want to do that. They wanted to consider legislation and then didn’t bring up that legislation. So we certainly are considering what rule we could put in place that JCAR would approve.”

That shows he’s learned a lesson from May’s failed experiment of filing — and quickly withdrawing — emergency public health rules about business operation that would’ve made violations punishable as a class A misdemeanor.

While the JCAR meets monthly, the entire Legislature isn’t doing anything (except campaigning) until the November veto session. If Pritzker and the Democrats who control the House and Senate wanted to convene a special session it would happen, but there’s no movement in that direction.

On Saturday I noted one major impediment to a special session is it would thrust House Speaker Michael Madigan into a spotlight he’s desperately trying to avoid on account of a federal bribery investigation. Another could well be that legislative Democrats don’t want their campaigns to be about coronavirus response.

Pritzker did suggest cities and counties could enact ordinances establishing fines for violating mandatory mask rules. That’s certainly preferable to a blanket policy, especially one that comes from the governor and not lawmakers. Less executive authority generally is a winning message.

Statewide, the best we can seemingly do is ask nicely and run pro-mask commercials. That’s probably not going to squelch coronavirus transmission, but it won’t be dictatorial. For many Illinoisans, that’s good enough.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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