HILO — A new Hawaii law is needed to contend with people who ignore mask mandates implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the state’s governor said.
Democratic Gov. David Ige on Monday called for citations similar to tickets written for minor traffic infractions, which carry fines but are not treated as criminal offenses, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.
All four of Hawaii’s counties have emergency mask mandates and violating them is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“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.
Ige proposed a new law concerning face coverings so people would have an option of paying or contesting fines without a jury trial.
The 2021 session of the state Legislature is scheduled to begin in January. Ige said he is unlikely to request a special session before then to change procedures and penalties for mask violations.
Passing a relevant law “would require pretty complicated legislation. And clearly, trying to get that rushed through an abbreviated session is a hard thing to work through,” Ige said.
Democratic state Sen. Lorraine Inouye said she supports the proposal.
“I don’t know what the discussion will be this next session, but I think the governor is on the right track,” Inouye said. “I don’t think we can afford to have a lot of people going to court.”
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said about 33,000 people had been warned and 3,100 citations issued since Sept. 20 for violations of the city’s coronavirus emergency regulations.
The Honolulu Police Department said officers issued 4,500 warnings and 470 citations for not wearing masks or failing to social distance since the launch last month of a pre-arrival virus testing program for tourists. Police said they did not separate visitors and residents on the list of citations and warnings.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.