CLEVELAND — Cleveland City Council passed mandatory mask legislation Wednesday afternoon that imposes fines for businesses and individuals who city's mask mandate, but does not include criminal penalties for violations.
After hours of discussion Wednesday, the council approved the mandate, which largely follows the state's guidelines. The difference comes in the penalties. Under the state's mask mandate, anyone caught not wearing a mask around others in counties that are Level 3 or 4 under the Public Health Advisory System faces potential criminal charges. However, Cleveland's health director, Merle Gordon, says no one has yet been criminally charged under the state's order.
"We have issued warnings," Gordon said. "We have not issued any misdemeanor tickets for failure to wear masks."
Cleveland's new ordinance instead imposes fines as a civil penalty, so it won't leave violators with a criminal record.
"We are looking to protect the public in a very strategic and proactive way," said Cleveland Safety Director Karrie Howard.
The legislation makes not wearing a mask a civil violation with a $25 fine to an individual for each offense. Businesses that violate the state's mask order after an employee gets ill will first receive a warning and then a $1,000 fine and a $3,000 fine for subsequent offenses. Under the legislation, both people and businesses would receive a warning first before being fined.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said officers will perform spot checks of businesses, and that the fines are necessary to show businesses they're serious.
"There are a few locations in the city over the last week and a half we visited at night that had in excess of 500 to 600 people packed into them — at $20 a head they charged people to go to these different locations," Williams said.
Williams said the department is in the process of coming up with orders instructing police how to handle violations. He said today, in some cases, that will include giving people masks if they don’t have one.
Some on the council wondered if this new city ordinance goes far enough.
"If this is such a pandemic and this is such a thing we need to get under control, why are we not putting teeth behind the legislation?" asked Councilmember Brian Kazy.
The city administration's hope is to protect people, not to punish them.
The legislation passed the council with a vote of 14-1, with Ward 8 Councilman Michael D. Polensek the only member to vote no.
"I have got concerns about the burden, a great burden being put on the Cleveland Police Department when they have far more pressing issues they have to contend with in our neighborhoods today," Polensek said.
Cleveland City Council members amend proposed mask mandate ordinance to lower penalties against businesses found in violation. Warning for 1st violation, $1k fine, then $3k fines for subsequent violations. @WEWS #WEWS pic.twitter.com/mrDSIT6k3Y— Scott Noll (@ScottNoll_News) July 15, 2020
The emergency legislation was in response to hundreds of complaints from residents that have contacted city hall and Cuyahoga County about mask violations.
Right now, there are 12 counties in Ohio, including Cuyahoga County, that fall under a Level 3 Public Emergency for the exposure and spread of COVID-19.
State health officials have issued a mandatory mask order for counties that fall under a Level 3 or 4 alert.
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