Slapping fines on those who don’t wear masks in stores advances in N.J.

Posted Sep 19, 2020

Despite an intense debate, New Jersey is one step closer to establishing a fine of up to $500 for shoppers who don’t properly wear a mask inside stores during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state Assembly’s appropriations committee voted 7-4, along party lines, to approve the bill that says anyone who enters a store with a visible sign requiring them to wear a mask is subject to a fine of $50 to $500 if they don’t wear a face covering over both their nose and mouth.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order in April mandating that people that enter stores in the Garden State must wear masks.

Under this Democratic-sponsored bill (A4453), violators would face a fine of between $50 and $500 if they enter a store with a visible sign requiring customers wear masks but don’t have a face covering over both their nose and mouth.

Originally, the bill carried a possible 30-day jail sentence, but that has since been dropped.

Under Murphy’s order, people don’t have to wear masks if it would “inhibit” their health or if they are younger than 2 years old.

The law would be in effect as long as Murphy’s public-health emergency remains in place. The governor has extended it six times since March.

State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, a main sponsor of the bill, said those who don’t wear masks in stores “put us all at risk," noting that many experts say the virus is more likely to spread indoors.

“There needs to be some sort of penalty to drive home the point that this mandate is not optional,” Caputo said. "One way or another, we’re all in this pandemic together, and must all do our part to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, another sponsor, said New Jersey “simply cannot allow people to continue to flout the rules in public spaces.”

But Republicans bashed the bill Thursday. Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said it’s “ludicrous that we’re putting the public through this.”

Assemblyman Kevin Rooney, R-Bergen, said the legislation would restrict “the liberties of our residents.”

The debate is similar to one that has raged across America as the coronavirus continues to affect the country. Supporters say masks are a minor inconvenience to help prevent more death. Opponents counter that face coverings infringe upon freedom.

People refusing to wear masks has led to numerous confrontations between customers and store employees across the country — including a notable July incident in a Staples in Hackensack.

On Wednesday, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that face masks “are the most important powerful public health tool we have.”

More than 16,000 New Jersey residents have died from complications related to COVID-19 — the second most of any U.S. state. The state’s daily number of cases and deaths are down dramatically since peaking in April, though officials on Friday announced five more deaths and 519 cases.

The bill would still need to be approved by both the full state Senate and Assembly — each of which are controlled by Democrats — before Murphy would decide whether to sign it into law or veto it.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-09-20 03:38:45 -0700