With ongoing debates over wearing masks leading to many Americans refusing to wear one in public during the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly Democrats Ralph Caputo, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joe Danielsen and Annette Quijano sponsor a bill that would penalize customers who enter stores without a mask in an effort to increase mask usage in New Jersey. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee Thursday.
Under the bill (A-4453), an individual could be fined anywhere from $50 to $500 for entering or remaining in a New Jersey store without properly wearing a mask that covers both their nose and mouth if the store has signage indicating a mask requirement. The bill’s stipulations would remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency and state of emergency declared in Executive Order No. 103.
“Far too many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been needlessly and dangerously politicized,” said Assemblyman Caputo (D-Essex). “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. 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.”
Mounting evidence from previous and continued research shows the efficacy of wearing a mask in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even been cited as saying he believes the pandemic could be brought under control in a matter of one to two months if “we could get everybody to wear a mask right now.”
“We know what it takes to reduce the transmission of COVID-19: wearing face coverings in public and maintaining a safe distance from others when possible,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “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. I believe that this legislation is an important step in ensuring that New Jersey continues on the right track towards recovery.”
Although 75 percent of Americans support face mask requirements in public, more than 15 percent rarely or never wear a mask outside their homes.
“Our state simply cannot allow people to continue to flout the rules in public spaces,” said Assemblyman Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset). “By ignoring mask mandates and strolling into a store without one, these individuals are willfully putting lives at risk. Other people have a right to go to work or patronize a business without fearing for their health because someone else chooses to ignore the danger of their actions. These mask requirements are in place for a reason.”
“Someone entering a business establishment and deciding the mask requirement does not apply to them places other people in harm’s way, which is why that behavior won’t be tolerated,” said Assemblywoman Quijano (D-Union). “There has been enough information and messaging around masks that everyone should know by now why they are so important. If someone is strongly opposed to the idea of a mask, there are other options, such as getting curbside pickup or online deliveries.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.