Aldermen, mayor introduce flurry of legislation in response to pandemic

The measures are intended to slow community spread of the coronavirus and help Chicagoans struggling to pay their bills because of the economic shutdown caused by the statewide stay-at-home order.

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With air travel curtailed, the security lines for outbound passengers were short Sunday at O’Hare Airport.

City Council proposals introduced Wednesday include assistance for concessionaires at the city’s airports who have struggled with air travel curtailed during the pandemic.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

From mandatory face masks and hand-sanitizing stations to a cap on restaurant delivery services, Chicago aldermen on Wednesday introduced an avalanche of legislation to protect and assist residents impacted by the coronavirus.

They were joined by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who proposed a “COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation” ordinance. It will protect employees from being fired if they stay home with symptoms from the coronavirus, are subject to a quarantine isolation order or if their business is “deemed non-essential” by the statewide, stay-at-home order.

Lightfoot also proposed using $3 million from the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to provide grants and no-interest loans of up to $75,000 for 40 city-subsidized properties containing a total of 3,400 units.

And the mayor proposed empowering Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee to authorize reduced or deferred rent and other breaks to struggling concessionaires at O’Hare and Midway airports while offering loans and grants to disadvantaged business enterprises at the airports.

The torrent of aldermanic legislation is intended to slow community spread of the coronavirus and assist Chicagoans struggling to pay their bills because of the economic shutdown caused by the statewide stay-at-home order.

Though the measures were introduced, Lightfoot’s decision to abruptly adjourn the virtual meeting prevented them from being assigned to committees.

They include:

• An ordinance co-sponsored by Aldermen Michele Smith (43rd) and Andre Vasquez (40th) requiring anyone age 2 or older to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth shield in public places and while riding Chicago public transit. Owners of essential businesses would be required to provide face masks and cleansing products to their employees and require those employees to wear masks while providing services to or interacting with the public. They would also be authorized to refuse admission to customers not wearing face masks and those “exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever or cough.” The ordinance had 41 co-signers.

• A proposal from Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) for a 5% cap on all delivery commissions through third-party restaurant delivery apps like DoorDash.

• A resolution from Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) urging Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to issue executive orders stating garbage and recycling contractors “shall not cancel or suspend business, commercial or residential waste or recycling removal services as a result of nonpayment due to a significant loss of income or revenue, or an increase in expenses resulting from” the pandemic.

• An ordinance championed by indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) declaring the coronavirus deaths of all police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians are “presumed” to be line-of-duty deaths.

• Stepped-up environmental inspection powers proposed by Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th) in the wake of the demolition debacle on the site of the shuttered coal-fired power plant in Little Village.

• An ordinance championed by Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th) mandating that hand sanitizing stations be “prominently installed and maintained near entryways and elevator banks in places of public access including but not limited to all airports, stores, sports stadiums, museums, music venues, concert halls, theaters, hospitals, nursing homes, parks and government buildings.” Coleman also wants to create a public/private fund to assist in the installation and maintenance of those stations.

• Lightfoot introduced an ordinance authorizing Business and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno to “negotiate and enter into agreements with outside providers to manage and operate a centralized dispatch system for wheelchair accessible taxicab vehicles.”

Lightfoot has strongly encouraged people to wear face masks while shopping and whenever social distancing isn’t possible. But she said Wednesday she’s reluctant to require it.

“The challenge is making sure every member of the public has the same accessibility to some kind of face covering. And we know, from the disparities in our city, that that is not so,” the mayor told a new conference after Wednesday’s Council meeting.

“What is possible in Lincoln Park is not the same as what’s possible in Austin or Englewood or Roseland. So we have to have a policy that is consistent with the realities of people’s lives.”

Lightfoot said mandating face masks “without giving people the tools to actually comply” would only create an even greater hardship during the pandemic. And she’s not about to “lock people up because they aren’t wearing masks in public.”

The 5% cap on restaurant delivery services comes at a time when carry-out and delivery is restaurants’ only source of income, with dining rooms closed by statewide order.

David London, senior government relations lead for DoorDash, said the cap would “make it untenable for delivery apps to cover the cost of doing business on behalf of their restaurant partners, customers and drivers.”

In a press release, London noted DoorDash has already cut in half, through May, commissions paid by small restaurants. He further argued commissions cover insurance, advertising and restaurant marketing, and pay drivers, customer support agents and credit card fees.

“It is, therefore, profoundly disappointing that, in the midst of this crisis when food delivery is more essential than ever, some members of the City Council are trying to score political points by imposing extreme government mandates that will force food delivery in Chicago to a standstill,” London was quoted as saying.

“This irresponsible and unconstitutional proposal would make it almost impossible for customers to get the food they need, deny earnings to drivers in a time when every dollar matters, and deprive local restaurants of badly-needed revenue.”

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