Keene council to reconsider mask mandate

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 7/17/2020 3:47:13 PM
Modified: 7/17/2020 3:47:01 PM

A proposed face mask ordinance is back on the table in Keene after a judge upheld a similar ordinance in Nashua.

The Keene City Council had been set to vote on a resolution that would strongly recommend the use of face masks in public to help stem the spread of COVID-19, but wouldn’t make them mandatory.

Prior to Thursday’s vote, however, Mayor George Hansel said new information had emerged and that some councilors had expressed interest in submitting the resolution as an ordinance.

Because an ordinance needs to be read at two council meetings, Hansel suggested suspending the rules of order to allow the ordinance to be read during Thursday’s meeting; this would allow for a second reading before the council goes on its August break. The reason for the urgency, he said, is to enable any ordinance to be in place by the time Keene State College students begin returning to campus next month.

“It was made clear to me by several people and councilors that the ordinance would really be most effective if it was able to be put in place before the students got back,” Hansel said during the meeting, which was held via Zoom.

In the end, the council voted both to approve the resolution that encourages the use of masks, as well as to suspend the rules and reintroduce the ordinance that would make mask-wearing mandatory. The proposed law was sent to the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee for further discussion.

The ordinance, as originally written, would require members of the public to wear masks inside all city businesses, including in outdoor areas where business is conducted, and government buildings. Masks would be optional for children under the age of 10, and they are not recommended for children under 2.

A mask ordinance was originally proposed by Councilor Randy Filiault in May. He has been a vocal supporter of the use of face coverings to help contain COVID-19. He echoed those sentiments Thursday.

“As of this morning, 36 states now require masks … we’re only one of 14 states that doesn’t,” Filiault said during the meeting. “But we have the opportunity to lead our city to do the right thing.”

Filiault withdrew the proposed ordinance after Nashua’s version was challenged, explaining that he had used very similar language to what was in that city’s law. While penalties weren’t included in the original draft, Filiault said he planned to model that after Nashua’s ordnance as well, which permits fines up to $1,000.

But on Monday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn denied a motion made by a Nashua resident claiming that city’s mandate violated his First Amendment rights, according to the Associated Press.

Keene councilors generally seemed supportive of a mask ordinance Thursday, though some expressed concerns about suspending the rules to expedite the process, as well as how the ordinance would be enforced.

The public will be able to weigh in on the proposed mask ordinance during the Planning, Licenses and Development Committee’s next meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held via Zoom, and access information can be found on the calendar on the city’s website.

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