Gov. David Ige on Monday said a new law is needed to help handle those who ignore the coronavirus-related emergency mask mandate in Hawaii by issuing a citation similar to tickets written for minor traffic infractions, which carry a fine but aren’t treated as a criminal offense.
“Right now, under emergency proclamations, the only penalty we can use to urge people to comply is a misdemeanor with a fine. And what happens is, that makes it a criminal penalty, and those who want to contest the citation (are) entitled to a jury trial,” Ige said during a Honolulu Advertiser Facebook Live stream.
All four counties have emergency mask mandates, and violating them can be punished by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Ige said he’d like a new law specifically about face coverings, “so that people would have the option of paying it or contesting the fine — but it wouldn’t require a jury trial, which a misdemeanor does.”
“I support that,” state Sen. Lorraine Inouye of Hilo told the Tribune-Herald 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.”
The 2021 legislative session starts in mid-January, and Ige said it’s unlikely he’ll request a special session of the Legislature prior to January to change procedures and penalties for face-covering violations.
“We’d have to pass a law, and we’d definitely do it next session,” he said. “… It would require pretty complicated legislation. And clearly, trying to get that rushed through an abbreviated session is a hard thing to work through.”
The Star-Advertiser reported on Oct. 24 that since Oct. 15, the start of the state’s pre-travel COVID-19 testing program, the Honolulu Police Department had issued approximately 8,400 warnings and 885 citations and arrests for COVID-19-related violations.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told the Honolulu paper that since Sept. 20, about 33,000 people had been warned and 3,100 citations had been issued — and she was at least equally concerned about violations by Hawaii residents.
“Residents are the ones that are out there doing a huge amount of violation, but I really think that for the visitors, the majority of them … I don’t think they’re going to purposely try and violate,” Ballard said.
Hawaii County Deputy Police Chief Kenneth Bugado told the Tribune-Herald on Friday that since Oct. 15, there have been three arrests of people refusing to wear a mask — each involving the same offender, a resident, on multiple days — and that two people, both visitors from out of state, were arrested for violating quarantine.
Bugado said no citations for violating state or county emergency orders had been issued by Big Island police since Oct. 15.
Ige said he’s working with the hotels and airlines and wants signs in the airport to notify visitors that wearing a face covering in public is the law in Hawaii.
“One of the things that we have learned since we started the testing program is that … we’re not clear all the time that the mask mandate is a requirement, regardless of whether you’re tested or not,” he said. “… Some of the travelers have expressed that they thought just because they tested negative, they were not subject to the mask mandate.
“So we continue to work with the hotels and airlines to tweak that message … because we know that’s really important.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.