Hoboken Council Rejects Fines for Not Wearing Masks
HOBOKEN — The City Council voted down an ordinance that would have imposed a $250 fine on those who don't wear a mark outdoors after several violations.
By a 6-3 vote, the council rejected the ordinance during Wednesday night's meeting, citing concerns with having police enforcing the local law.
The fine would have been issued in cases of "chronic disobedience or disorderly conduct" that violated Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order mandating masks.
"The idea was that we wanted to do education to increase compliance in Hoboken," 6th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, who introduced the ordinance, said in an interview. "There are a lot of signs that are up in Hoboken like 'no mask no service' and 'no mask no entry.' They're all over our parks, they're all over our businesses but, unfortunately, compliance has not what we hoped and needed to contain the spread of COVID-19."
He compared the fine to a parking ticket and said that as there are places one should not park without getting ticket there are also places that a mask must be worn because it's not possible to socially distance.
A city task force has been handing out 500 masks a night, according to Cohen, with many more people going maskless.
"We have a COVID-19 task force. They are continuing to do education, they're going to continue to hand out masks. We're going to use the tools that are available to try an encourage compliance with the governor's executive order to protect the people of Hoboken," Cohen said.
The City Council listened to public comments during the meeting held via Zoom for about an hour and some members said that they understood masks prevent the spread of virus but expressed concern about police being involved in the enforcement.
The matter of a fine is dead as far as Cohen is concerned as he said he will not reintroduce the ordinance.
"We took a shot and it was denied by my colleagues on the council. For me it was a disappointing outcome. I respect the vote of my colleagues and we'll find the best alternative way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Hoboken," Cohen said.
The vote came after a city survey of residents found 51% to be in favor of the penalty and 70% of the “high risk” population including seniors or those with serious underlying medical conditions indicated they would feel safer or much safer if a $250 fine was instituted.
Murphy's executive order mandates the use of face coverings indoors and outside when social distancing is not possible. Violation of the directive is considered a minor misdemeanor that is punishable by jail time of up to six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000, at the "discretion of the court." When announcing the mask wearing directive, Murphy said that people would get "at least a warning."