Legislators oppose business fines over mandates

(Dreamstime/TNS)

CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators passed a resolution last week encouraging the Public Health Department not to issue fines to businesses for violations of the state’s mask mandate.

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul’s statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces took effect mid-December. Under the mandate, businesses may be subject to civil and criminal penalties with a maximum fine of $1,000 per violation.

“The St. Lawrence County Public Health Department has been and continues to work tirelessly to educate and vaccinate the residents of St. Lawrence County, and lacks the time and resources to police businesses, nor do they need the added burden of a regulation that is almost impossible to enforce,” the resolution reads.

“The global pandemic has led to massive disruptions in life and in business, and COVID-19 fatigue is setting in for many businesses as they face tough operational obstacles including difficulty in finding workers and inflation for goods that all add to long-term challenges for many business owners, and they do not need the threat of penalties at this time,” it continues.

County Attorney Stephen D. Button recently clarified the new state regulations as not encouraging fines. He said the state is focused instead on educating the public on safety precautions to protect communities from COVID-19 as opposed to issuing fines.

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, who sponsored the resolution, said the move is “not encouraging people not to wear masks; it’s not encouraging people not to get vaccinated; it’s encouraging the Public Health Department not to issue fines.”

“We’ve been through enough,” Mr. Acres said. “The vaccines have been widely available, and people have made up their minds about whether masks are effective or not. ... I think this is an overreach on behalf of the New York State Department of Health.”

Legislator John H. Burke, R-Norfolk, opposed the resolution.

“I won’t be supporting this,” he said. “I think it’s an overreach of our authority.”

The 15-member Legislature, Mr. Burke said, hears regular reports from interim Public Health Director Jolene F. Munger and county Board of Health President Dr. Andrew F. Williams.

“They’re very capable people in our Public Health Department and on the board, and I think we should let them do their job without any kind of political interference,” Mr. Burke said.

Legislator Margaret G. Haggard, D-Potsdam, opposed the resolution.

“Firstly, SLC Public Health should make this decision, not the Board of Legislators,” she said. “Secondly, unfortunately, they are so busy with the spike in COVID-19 cases that this would be very difficult to enforce.”

Legislators Nicole A. Terminelli, D-Massena, and Suzanne M. Fiacco, D-Norwood, also opposed the resolution.

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