Gov. David Ige said Monday he wants a new law implemented to address mask scofflaws in the Aloha State amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal would change how current mask mandates are enforced across the Hawaii’s four counties and remove criminal penalties for the offense.
“Let’s be very clear, the mask mandate is the law right now. The state, I issued, my emergency proclamation requiring masks, and every mayor has issued a mandate requiring masks so it is the law and people need to comply,” Ige said during a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Spotlight Hawaii program.
Hawaii County currently requires masks be worn in all public places per Mayor Harry Kim’s Emergency Rule No. 10 issued in July.
Currently, under Ige’s emergency proclamation, the only penalty that can be used to “encourage people to comply” is to charge someone with a misdemeanor and assess a fine. A misdemeanor can be punished by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
“And what happens is that makes it a criminal penalty and that those who want to contest the citation is entitled to a jury trial,” Ige said.
Instead, the state is looking to make the offense an infraction, but just how much that could cost a person wasn’t divulged.
“What we’re talking about is creating a different way so that we can assess a fine, simply just like a traffic citation,” Ige said. “People would have the option of paying it or contesting the fine, but it wouldn’t require a jury trial, which at least a misdemeanor does.”
Ige said he couldn’t implement the fine via emergency proclamation.
“We tried to see if I could do it in my emergency proclamation. The feeling is that we don’t have that option right now. So we’d have to pass a law and we definitely will do it next session,” he said.
When asked by host Ryan Kalei Tsuji if the Legislature could be called back before the 2021 session opens in mid-January, Ige said the administration would be “inclined” to wait until the next session due to today’s general election and being so close to year’s end.
Ige estimated it that if both the House and Senate agree, it would take about four weeks to get a bill through the Legislature, noting the bigger challenge will be logistics and implementing the process for citations. He added leaders of both chambers believe “we should have another option: the ability to assess the fine.”
“So we’ll see. We’re debating whether that makes sense right now. It would require pretty complicated legislation and trying to get that rushed through in an abbreviated session is just a hard thing to work through,” he said.
“I support that,” state Sen. Lorraine Inouye of Hilo said in response. “I don’t know what the discussion will be this next session (of the Legislature), but I think the governor is on the right track. I don’t think we can afford to have a lot of people going to court.”
Last week, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell called on Ige to institute a statewide mask mandate, rather than allowing counties to come up with their own rules. That move followed Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a practicing physician in West Hawaii, calling for a stronger, uniform mandate days earlier.
“We need a mask mandate, if I can be direct. We need one that is very easy to enforce and we all have to commit to that. If we do, our numbers will drop,” the emergency room doctor said Oct. 26 outside Kohala Hospital in Kapaau. He also called for a fine to be imposed, rather than the current misdemeanor offense.