Social media lit up with reaction to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s executive order on Thursday afternoon.
In that order, the governor mandated the use of masks to “slow the spread of COVID-19.” That order went into effect on Monday, July 20. Arkansans are required to wear a mask covering the face and nose in public areas when social distancing of six feet is not possible. Anyone violating the order can be charged with a misdemeanor and if convicted, punishable by a fine of not less than $100, nor more than $500. Law enforcement may NOT detain, arrest or confine in jail anyone found in violation of the order. The order will not prohibit law enforcement officers or local officials from enforcing trespassing laws or other applicable laws in removing violators at the request of business or other property owners. There are, however, exemptions to the order.
Area law enforcement leaders responded to the order, preparing for Monday’s inception:
Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion
“IF it’s in the county, we would respond and tell them to put on a mask or leave the establishment. If a person refuses, they could be given a citation for criminal trespass.”
Scott County Sheriff Randy Shores
“Our agency has received questions regarding enforcement of the Governor’s recent Executive Order, which requires the wearing of face coverings in many situations. Many people have questioned the constitutionality of such an order. Through laws like Arkansas Code 20-7-110 and the Arkansas Emergency Services Act of 1973 the Legislature has delegated broad authority to the Executive branch, and has defined violations as a misdemeanor under Arkansas Code 20-7-101. Regardless, it would not be surprising to see the constitutionality of this Executive Order challenged in court.
Constitutional questions aside, as a practical matter the order seems largely unenforceable. The order allows numerous exceptions. For example, those with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent wearing a face covering are exempted, but what those conditions or disabilities are is not defined. Likewise, those performing job duties that would be inhibited by wearing a face covering are also exempted, but what qualifies as inhibition is left to be interpreted as broadly or narrowly as one wants. Face coverings are required outdoors where there is not enough space to practice social distancing, but almost all outdoor areas, by virtue of being outside, have virtually unbounded space for practicing social distancing.
It would therefore be a poor use of our limited resources to attempt to enforce such an order. We will, however, continue to protect the private property rights of the people of this county. If a property owner or business requires you to wear a mask to enter their property, respect that. You do not have a right to enter or remain on another person’s property if they ask you to leave. To do so would be trespassing.”
Greenwood Police Chief William Dawson
“We will respond, but we will not be writing tickets for just masks. If a business asks someone to leave because they are not wearing a mask, then they should leave. We cannot take enforcement action without detaining someone. We’re not going to violate someone’s rights over the masks.”
Mansfield Police Chief Wayne Robb
“I agree with it (the order.) It starts Monday, and we will follow the governor’s guidelines. We will educate by example, if either myself or one of my officers goes into a business, we will be wearing a mask. If we are called to a business where someone is refusing to wear a mask, we will ask them to leave. If they refuse, then they can be cited for criminal trespass. Although we have the ability to write citations, I do prefer to inform of the governor’s mandate.”
Hartford Police Chief Joey Bolin
“I am not going to actively seek those not wearing masks. I will let the businesses of Hartford dictate how that goes if they want to enforce it. If businesses call me when someone is not wearing a mask let the businesses dictate how that goes if they want to enforce it, I will step in.
Huntington Police Chief Stacy Wieburg
The Huntington Police Department will not be writing tickets to residents or visitors of the City of Huntington because of masks. We have more pressing issues to address. I feel each person has the right to decide if they want to wear a mask or not. I personally have worn a mask in situations where I felt it was warranted. Businesses are private property and they have the right to ask you to leave if you aren’t wearing one. If you do not, then you can be cited for trespassing.
Hackett Police Chief Ricci Pyle
“We will use our own discretion. Hackett doesn’t really deal in large crowds and social distancing isn’t a problem. We aren’t planning to write tickets just because people aren’t wearing masks.”
Barling Police Chief Darrell Spells
“The governor’s mandate does not alter our department’s prioritization of resources. We will continue serving the citizens of Barling and are available to local business owners should the need arise.“
Lavaca Police Chief Randy Toon
Waldron Police Chief Jeremy Hunt
“We will educate the public on the order when needed, but will not be issuing citations.”