Two New Jersey lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make it a crime for customers to enter a store without wearing a face mask.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) say they want to increase mask usage as New Jersey fights the spread of COVID-19.
They cite research that shows the best way to control the coronavirus pandemic is to increase the number of people using personal protection equipment.
“Wearing a mask in stores is critical to keeping our business owners, their staff and customers safe. Wearing a mask is a show of respect for the health of others around you as well as the sacrifices that have been made during this difficult time,” Huttle said. “I believe that this legislation is an important step in ensuring that New Jersey continues on the right track towards recovery.”
Under the proposed legislation, individuals who enter or remain in a New Jersey store that requires face masks could be charged with a petty disorderly persons offense.
The plan, if approved by the full legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, would remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency.
Murphy has asked New Jerseyans to wear a mask, indoors and outdoors, to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“There needs to be some sort of penalty to drive home the point that this mandate is not optional,” Caputo said. “One way or another, we’re all in this pandemic together, and must all do our part to prevent the spread of this virus.”
The bill faces opposition from the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Amol Sinha.
“We’re not going to criminalize our way out of this pandemic,” said Sinha on Twitter. “Every time we criminalize something and use the police to enforce it, it disproportionately burdens Black and brown communities and leads to unnecessary escalation. There are better solutions.”
This story was updated at 10:39 AM.