Mask mandate: Hutchinson issues executive order requiring face coverings

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lovely County Citizen

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued an executive order Thursday, July 16, mandating the use of face coverings in public.

The order, issued under Hutchinson’s emergency powers, requires individuals to wear masks covering their mouth and nose in both indoor and outdoor environments when they are in the presence of non-household members and cannot maintain at least six feet of distance.

The order includes multiple exemptions, including provisions for children under 10 and individuals with a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

“Law enforcement and local officials have the authority and are encouraged to enforce this directive,” the order says.

Violating the order will be classified as a misdemeanor offense. First-time violators are to receive a verbal or written warning, according to the executive order. Repeated violations could result in a fine of $100 to $500, although violators under the age of 18 cannot be fined. The order stipulates that no one will be arrested for not wearing a face covering.

Hutchinson had resisted issuing a mandate on face coverings for weeks, saying he didn’t believe an order was necessary although he consistently urged Arkansans to wear a mask to protect others from the virus. But with the state averaging more than 600 newly confirmed cases a day in July and the number of Arkansans hospitalized with the virus spiking, Hutchinson said it was time to act.

"The number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are numbers that speak for themselves and indicate that we need to do more," Hutchinson said.

Local reaction

Hutchinson’s announcement came three days after the Berryville City Council adopted an ordinance on face coverings. The Eureka Springs City Council had scheduled a special meeting Thursday, July 16, to consider a similar ordinance but canceled it after Hutchinson’s announcement.

"I think the governor did the right thing, and I just hope people will realize that it's not directed at anybody; it's to help everybody," Berryville mayor Tim McKinney said. "If we can all do our part, we can get this thing behind us."

Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry said the city is going to do “as much as the governor allows us to do with his recommendations.”

“So of course we’re taking it serious. We take the whole pandemic and COVID virus serious, and anything that comes out of the health department, we take serious,” Berry said.

Some law enforcement officials around the state indicated that they would not enforce Hutchinson’s executive order. In Carroll County, law enforcement officials said they will respond to businesses that report issues with customers not abiding by the order.

“I believe our citizens know when they should and should not wear a mask,” Carroll County Sheriff Jim Ross said in a post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page. “I will be leaving it to our citizens to determine whether or not they fall under one of the exemptions provided in the Governor’s mandate.

“While my Deputies stay inundated with calls for service, we will nonetheless respond to any business located outside city jurisdictions related to individuals failing to comply with the mandate (provided the owner has requested the patron wear a mask or leave the premises).

“We will handle each call on a case by case basis, and as low key as possible. Our friends and neighbors can trust the Sheriff’s Office will do what is right.”

Ross acknowledged that he will not wear a face mask.

Berryville police chief Robert Bartos noted the multiple exemptions to Hutchinson’s order.

“We’ll just do our best to enforce the law,” Bartos said. “We’re kind of short-handed right now, so it kind of puts us in a tight position, but there are a lot of exemptions in there, too, that people need to realize. You can be inside a business and if you can social distance, you can be exempt. And outside, too. … We’ll do our best to obey the laws and try to enforce it.”

“We’re not going to be mask police,” Green Forest police chief John Bailey said. “If someone violates a store policy, which should be based on the mandate, and they refuse to leave, then we’ve got a criminal trespass or if they become disorderly that’s another violation of the law. When we get there, it’s ‘you either need to put a mask on or leave.’ Then if they refuse to leave, we would be addressing those issues. I wish people would be more considerate to the employees who are trying to do what the store policy requires. … But to say that we’re going to be driving around patrolling or looking for that, that’s not going to be our number one priority.”

Brian Jones, assistant chief of the Eureka Springs Police Department, said he spoke with chief Brian Young and “what we’re going to tell you is we will be in compliance with the governor’s executive order.”

“We will be in compliance with his orders,” Jones said. “We will do our job. That’s how it’s written in his order and we will respond that way.”

“It’s education and trying to educate people as we can,” Berry said. “This isn’t about going out and arresting people, and also, as the governor says, at this point in time we have a limited police force so we’ve got some priorities.”

Berry continued, “If something’s coming up and we’ve got a domestic going on, we’re not going to respond to someone not wearing a mask but that doesn’t mean we’re not taking it serious.”

Berry said everyone needs to work together and educate those who don’t understand why they should be wearing a mask.

“We don’t need to go out and accuse people and harass people and have people throwing sticks and stuff about the mask not being worn,” Berry said. “This is a whole new world that we’re living in, so we have to be careful all the way around with what we’re doing and trying to make sure everybody’s safe and healthy.”

Ballinger objects

State Sen. Bob Ballinger, whose district includes most of Carroll County, posted a live video on Facebook before Hutchinson announced his executive order on Thursday, July 16, saying he expected such an order to be issued this week.

Ballinger spoke from Florida, where he said he was on vacation after a conference he planned to attend was canceled. He acknowledged that face coverings can be helpful in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 but criticized Hutchinson for issuing the executive order without legislative debate.

“My personal opinion is that a mask can be helpful and effective in some situations,” Ballinger said. “… If you’re in a situation where you’re in prolonged contact, close quarters with somebody where you can’t socially distance, then if you’re wearing a mask it helps to protect the people that are around you in those close quarters. … But having said that, there’s a difference between what may be a good idea, and what may be the right of the state to mandate. So I’m highly offended by the idea that a state government would mandate the wearing of masks in public places. I think that is something that is a huge overstep. Not only is it a huge overstep, the fact that we’re mandating it from the state level; it’s not even something that the elected representatives of the state debated and put together. … I’m highly offended that the governor has not called a special session, has not sought direction from the whole legislature.”

Ballinger suggested that Arkansas residents consider refusing to comply with Hutchinson’s executive order.

“We will never regain essential liberties, if we surrender essential liberties,” he said. “… Frankly, I think we’re at a point now where peaceful non-compliance would be appropriate. Like I said, if you’re in close quarters, in a position where you could make someone else sick, think about them. But, the truth, if that’s not the situation, if you’re not in a place where you’re going to make someone else sick, you have no moral obligation to wear a mask simply because the state government requires you to do so, or is trying to require you to do so, in a situation that’s way outside their constitutional rights.”

The same day the video was posted on his “legislative page” on Facebook, Ballinger shared it on his personal page, writing: “Liberty lost is seldom reacquired without violence. It’s time that citizens take control of their government.”

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