CLAREMONT — The Claremont Policy Committee will not pursue a local mask ordinance at this time but will continue to keep the item of the agenda in case the governor’s statewide mandate ceases to provide adequate “coverage.”
The policy committee tabled its plan last month to draft a city mask ordinance after Gov. Chris Sununu surprised Granite Staters earlier that afternoon by announcing a statewide mask mandate.
On Thursday, the policy committee discussed whether to proceed with an ordinance at the local level.
The state allows municipalities to create additional mask provisions for their communities beyond those in the governor’s mandate. Local ordinances must adhere to the provisions in the state mandate and cannot adopt weaker restrictions, but communities may adopt stricter regulations than the state’s provisions.
City Councilor Erica Sweetser identified three areas of Sununu’s mandates that could potentially be strengthened through a local ordinance. First, Sununu’s mandate does not include a penalty for non-compliance. Second, Sununu’s mandate only requires the wearing of a mask when one is within six feet of other people.
Third, Sununu’s mandate is dated to expire on January 15, 2021.
“My only question is whether we want our own order that goes past Jan. 15, no matter what happens, and do we want order wearing a mask inside, whether you socially distance or not,” Sweetser said.
Claremont Policy Committee Chair and City Councilor Jon Stone said the governor’s date of expiration is more likely a placeholder than an actual end date. Throughout the pandemic this year Sununu has extended the dates of his emergency orders depending on the health and safety conditions as the expiration nears.
The policy committee has a meeting scheduled for Jan. 7. City Manager Ed Morris said the city may have a clearer picture by then of the pandemic’s status and Sununu’s intent to extend the mask requirement.
“If we need to we can always reach out to the governor as well,” Morris said. “We should keep the 7th open, but if there hasn’t been discussion or the mandate is still in place, I don’t know that it’s something we should really be working on.”
Notably, the policy committee did not discuss the biggest, and arguably most controversial question, as to whether the city wants to impose a monetary penalty in Claremont for people who fail to comply.
The Claremont City Council, who last month directed the policy committee to draft a mask ordinance for council consideration, were divided over whether to fine people for noncompliance.
Stone, for example, has remained adamant that he will not support a penalty on people who do not wear a mask.
Morris, though not a voting member of the council, has also expressed opposition to enforcing the ordinance. While he strongly advocates for wearing masks in public places, and has even issued a mask requirement inside city buildings, Morris said he does to put additional responsibilities and stress on Claremont police officers to follow-up on complaints and issue citations.
But City Councilor James Contois, participating as a member of the public, urged the policy committee to create a local ordinance with an enforceable penalty.
“I have been in all of the stores with mask mandates and people have been very cavalier about wearing masks,” Contois said.”
While Sununu’s ordinance only requires masks indoors under certain conditions, Morris pointed out that a majority of local businesses have policies requiring masks at all times.
“And those policies have increased,” Morris said. “I went out this weekend and know that [several stores] have really upticked their mask-wearing and making sure that people are wearing them.”
In some cases Sununu’s provisions are even stricter than what Claremont was considering locally. Whereas Claremont was looking to exempt children ages 10 and younger from the mask-requirement, the governor’s mandate lowers the exemption to ages 5 and younger.
Claremont resident Rebecca McKenzie, who voiced support for stricter requirements in Claremont, said she thought the cutoff should be lowered to children ages two and under, but Sweetser said she would not support that.