Lawmaker asks mask enforcers to take it easy on businesses

  • A sign on the door of the Loudon Village Country Store tells customers that masks are optional. Jonathan Van Fleet

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/26/2021 5:23:36 PM

State Rep. Leah Cushman of Weare would like investigators looking into possible violations of mask mandates to use a little less zeal. 

Relax, and don’t treat people like criminals based on anonymous tips, she said. 

Last August, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Executive Order 65, which established fines of up to $1,000 for breaking COVID-19 rules and regulations. Nine establishments, most of which serve food, have been cited.

Individually, we all know the drill. Socially distance yourself from others and wear a mask. It’s part of the day now, like brushing your teeth. Ignore protocol, and you’re bound to get dirty looks at the gas station or get booted out of the grocery store.

However, if business owners flout the rules and the Attorney General’s Office is tipped off through anonymous complaints, fines will be issued.

Some have accused state and local officials of bullying tactics and sloppy investigative work.

Cushman said a lot of the phone-in tips have been worthless, but that didn’t stop the mask police.

“Town Health Officers are launching investigations based on hearsay, often stemming from anonymous complaints,” Cushman wrote in a recent letter to the editor.

She hinted that law enforcement and other officials lack the compassion needed during these strange circumstances when a surprise visit can seem like an ambush.

Finally, Cushman spoke directly to Weare’s health officer, Kelly Dearborn-Luce, telling her to “please understand the guidelines, wield your power with restraint, and don’t go after businesses based on hearsay. Our town depends on small businesses and we would like them to stay.”

Cushman declined to comment by phone. She said her letter had said it all, although we don’t know how she obtained such intimate knowledge on phony tips or bullying calls from officials to merchants.

Dearborn-Luce declined to comment as well. She said Weare’s Select Board had no comment either.

People, though, are talking. It’s an issue with a long, pandemic-fueled shelf life. Is the government overreaching, stretching uncomfortably close to an area in which they do not belong? That’s the beef.

And then there’s the small matter of interpreting a really, really famous piece of paper. That’s what the owner of the Loudon Village Country Store, Dawn Plourde, said on a sign she posted at her store last November.

“We will not require our employees or customers to wear masks” the sign read. “Please refer to the Constitution of the United States.”

Plourde showed a rebellious spirit, ignoring multiple orders by the town’s fire chief, Tom Blanchette, telling him to mind his own business.

She was plenty mad then, telling the Monitor, “As a New Hampshire native, as a business owner, we decided that we weren’t going to require (masks). It’s Live Free or Die. It’s use your common sense. People should be able to use their judgment.”

Eight businesses thus far – including Checkmate Pizza – have been hit with civil penalties. The New England Flag Football League was fined $2,000 for knowingly breaking the rules and permitting teams from outside New England to compete in a jamboree.

“Given the multiple warnings prior to the event, the actions of the NEFFL were reckless and intentional,” said documentation from the Attorney Geneal’s Office, explaining reasons for the civil penalty.

That money, however, will be returned to all business owners if House Bill 63 passes into law. The bill calls for all fines paid as the result of any of the governor’s executive orders to be refunded.

Plus, any licenses that were revoked or suspended would be restored, and criminal records resulting from breaking COVID-19 orders would be annulled as well.

In the meantime, Rep. Cushman wants local and state officials to chill.

“Many are unaware of the stress and emotional hardship business owners are facing,” Cushman wrote, “to meet the often unreasonable demands of Town Health Officers on a power trip.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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