NJ Proposal Calls For Jail, Fines For Virus Mask Defiance

By Jeannie O'Sullivan
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Law360 (July 31, 2020, 4:28 PM EDT) -- Failing to wear a mask in New Jersey stores during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a fine and possibly jail time under a proposal unveiled Friday by two Democratic lawmakers, one of whom called it a "life and death" matter that's been politicized.

Assembly Bill 4453 would make mask defiance a petty disorderly persons offense for anyone who enters or remains in a Garden State shop with signage indicating a mask requirement. Petty disorderly persons offenses are punishable by up to a month in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both, according to the bill.

Bill sponsors Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, pointed to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago in support of masks as an effective tool to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

Face masks and social distancing are among the coronavirus precautions Gov. Phil Murphy has emphasized during his daily briefings about the state's response to the pandemic for the last four months. The pandemic has deepened the political divide between the Democratic governor and some Republican lawmakers who say his virus response mandates are fueled by politics, not science.

"Far too many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been needlessly and dangerously politicized. We need to look at the facts based on what we know right now, which is that wearing a mask around other people — especially indoors — significantly reduces the spread of this deadly virus," Caputo said in a statement.

"That means this is truly a matter of life and death which we cannot take lightly. Although many residents have been following the governor's mask mandate, those who aren't put us all at risk. There needs to be some sort of penalty to drive home the point that this mandate is not optional. One way or another, we're all in this pandemic together, and must all do our part to prevent the spread of this virus," Caputo said.

Vainieri Huttle said masks reduce transmission of the coronavirus and said the measure would help keep the communities safe during the "new normal." "As New Jersey continues to enter into our 'new normal' we must ensure that we are doing all that we can to keep our communities safe on the road back.

"Wearing a mask in stores is critical to keeping our business owners, their staff and customers safe. Wearing a mask is a show of respect for the health of others around you as well as the sacrifices that have been made during this difficult time," Vanieri-Huttle said.

"I believe that this legislation is an important step in ensuring that New Jersey continues on the right track towards recovery," Vanieri-Huttle said.

If signed into law, the measure would remain in effect throughout the public health crisis.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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