Hoboken City Council Votes Down $250 Mask Fines Ordinance

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Over the last few weeks, Hoboken’s City Council was considering taking things to the next level with mask fines, following an executive order from Phil Murphy for the state of New Jersey already in place: issuing a fine for those refusing to wear a mask outdoors when social distancing is not possible. On August 19th, the City Council voted down the second reading of the $250 mask fine ordinance.

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An Executive Order from Governor Murphy Statewide

With reopening underway and Coronavirus cases on the rise in the state, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 163 on July 8th. The order requires residents across the state to wear face masks outdoors when social distancing is not possible. “As I’ve said before, we know this virus is a lot less lethal outdoors than indoors, but that does not mean it is not lethal,” Murphy said. “The hotspots we’re seeing across the nation and certain worrisome transmission trends in New Jersey require us to do more. In the absence of a national strategy on face coverings, we’re taking this step to ensure that we can continue on our road back as one New Jersey family.” However, he admitted that enforcement will be difficult – if possible at all.

An Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) COVID-19 model predicts an additional 620 deaths in New Jersey by December 1st. But the IHME analysis also finds that if all residents in the state follow universal masking, 168 lives could be saved.

Read More: Hoboken University Medical Center Reports Zero COVID-19 Patients for First Time Since March

The Unfolding of the Situation in Hoboken

Over the last few weeks, a Hoboken ordinance, which unanimously passed first reading, proposed that a $250 fine would be imposed on anyone who is not wearing a mask outdoors and unable to socially distance at least six feet from others, mimicking the state regulation passed by Governor Murphy.

City and state regulations currently call for patrons and employees to wear a mask outside unless seated at a food establishment, and when unable to social distance six feet from others, also in line with the Governor’s executive order on face masks.

So who would be enforcing this regulation? Well, the police department, office of emergency management, code enforcement officers, the zoning department, construction official, and any other members of the COVID-19 task force would have the ability to issue fines.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla told Hudson County View that while sanctions were certainly in play if the ordinance is approved, they would only be issued in the direst circumstances.

“The mechanism of an ordinance which creates a local fine is intended to be utilized only in those extreme measures where you have chronic disobedience or disorderly conduct associated with that type of a situation,” the mayor explained.

From City Hall spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri, “Both the Governor’s Executive Order and potential fine do not apply if working out outdoors in a socially distanced manner, such as workouts in a park where participants are at least six feet from others. Masks do not need to be worn when sitting down and dining at an outdoor establishment.”

See More: Latest Jersey City + Hoboken COVID-19 Updates as of August 9, 2020

The City of Hoboken released the results of a survey on the day of the City Council meeting regarding face mask usage. 3,661 people filled out a survey sent out by the City to residents in a 24-hour span between August 17 and 18th, representing 7% of the population.

According to the results of the survey, 51% of respondents indicated they agreed or strongly agreed with the implementation of an ordinance that allows for a $250 fine in situations when social distancing is not possible.

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. 62% of respondents indicated that they believed a $250 fine would make other people more likely to wear face masks, while 37% indicated that a $250 fine would make them more likely to wear a face mask outdoors.

35% of respondents indicated support for the fine amount as $250, with 30% supporting a fine between $24 and $249, and 29% not supporting any fine amount

For full results of the City’s face mask survey, click here.

The August 19th Vote on the Mask Fines

During the City Council meeting, councilmembers listened to constituents during the Zoom meeting, many sharing that they were opposed to the mask ordinance. At the vote, the measure was voted down by Councilmembers Jen Giattino, Ruben Ramos, Mike Defusco, Vanessa Falco, Tiffanie Fisher, and Michael Russo with Councilmembers Phil Cohen, James Doyle, and Emily Jabbour voting in favor of the fines.

Councilmembers Weigh In

While the ordinance passed unanimously on its first reading, the August 19th council meeting vote showed. When asked for comment by Hoboken Girl, some council members expressed their hesitation on the ordinance last week.

Councilman Ruben Ramos had shared with Hoboken Girl, “I am very pro-mask wearing but I’d like to know the difference between this ordinance and the Executive Order that Gov. Murphy signed issuing $1,000 fines in his mask mandate. Local law enforcement was given the authority to enforce the executive order. I’m curious to learn how many fines the Hoboken Police Department has issued. I favor the approach of more education about the importance mask wearing as opposed to a law that may or may not be enforced equitably. This may go the way of the scooter enforcement which was basically non-existent.”

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fischer echoed similar sentiments and shared that she would be voting ‘no’ on the ordinance in her newsletter to constituents. “I am 100% ‘pro-masker’ and believe wearing a mask is the least we can do for our safety. But this ordinance feels more like a headline grab than an actual pro-safety step. Governor Murphy has said his executive order {that this ordinance mirrors} is nearly impossible to enforce. So I look forward to hearing our mayor’s and HPD’s actual plan to enforce and ultimately fine Hoboken residents $250 for non-compliance. I’d hope other measures that fall somewhere between sending city emails urging mask usage and this proposed step are also being considered.”

Council President Jen Giattino told Hoboken Girl in an email, “I am a believer in we all need to do our part. I cannot support legislation that will cause unnecessary stress on the residents of Hoboken due to the vagueness of the Executive Order it is mirroring.”

Councilman Mike Defusco issued a statement saying, “The fairness of having employees not trained in public health and the possibility of bias impacting their decision creates a dangerous slippery slope, policy wise.”

Councilman Phil Cohen, on the other hand, favors the ordinance. “I plan to support this ordinance to give the city all available tools to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 while we work to restore some sense of normalcy in these unprecedented times,” the councilman said in his most recent newsletter. “I ask you all to be considerate neighbors, whether walking, jogging, scooting, or biking in town. We’re all in this together. Wear a mask, save a life.”

He also shared with Hoboken Girl via email, “It’s disappointing that the City Council failed to pass the face mask ordinance tonight, despite a majority of Hoboken residents and 5th Ward residents surveyed favoring the regulation, as they expected higher levels of compliance as a result.

Hoboken needs to instill a culture of compliance with respect to mask-wearing in places where it is impossible to practice social distancing. The failure to authorize the City to issue warnings and tickets for such risky misconduct emboldens “mask-less” visitors to continue squeezing past us on our sidewalks and in our parks — further diminishing the quality of life in our City, particularly for our seniors and at-risk population, who are rightly fearful to venture into Hoboken’s public spaces due to the risks of COVID-19 and the poor rates of compliance in our community.”

According to Vijay Chaudhuri, spokesman for the mayor, the mayor supported the ordinance, as well. “Mayor Bhalla is 100% supportive of the proposed fine to enforce mask requirements,” said in an email to Hoboken Girl. “Wearing face masks remains one of the main strategies health experts recommend to combat the spread of COVID-19. The City will do everything possible to combat the virus and save lives.”

Additionally, Councilman Doyle shared with Hoboken Girl in an email, “The debate over the proposed mask ordinance is not nearly as complicated as certain councilpersons are making it.  A fair, broad survey was conducted and the results are clear, for those who want to decide based on the will of the electorate. If one feels the very concept is a governmental overreach, then the decision is easy for you, too. For me, I believe that masks are protective, and the burden of wearing one is low, so as a legislator, I feel we should err on the side of protecting the public, especially our seniors and most vulnerable.”

Remaining council members did not respond to our request for comment by the time of publication.


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Jen is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of HobokenGirl.com. With deep entrepreneurial roots in Hudson County — as her grandparents owned textile businesses on Tonnelle Ave in North Bergen dating back to the 50s — she started the site as a Hoboken resident to discover the amazing things happening in the area. When not planning the next Hoboken Girl event or #HobokenGirlHelps volunteer project, she can usually be found shopping at local boutiques, eating an Insta-worthy meal, walking her two pups, or watching Bravo TV and ordering takeout with her husband.