Talbot OKs fine up to $1,000 for virus rules violators

Talbot County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley, during a Tuesday, July 28, Talbot County Council meeting, turns with council members to watch a video of Gov. Larry Hogan discussing health safety restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

EASTON — The Talbot County Council voted 4-1 in favor of an emergency resolution that allows local enforcers to issue fines of up to $1,000 to citizens and businesses that violate Gov. Larry Hogan’s pandemic-fueled rules.

The approved resolution states that violators of the governor’s orders — which require physical distancing, masking, limited capacity and sanitation efforts within retail establishments, restaurants, bars, and among individuals in certain places — will receive a warning on their first violation. On a violator’s second offense, a fine of no more than $1,000 will be issued.

On third offense, if the violator is an establishment that holds a liquor license, that license will be reviewed for suspension by the local liquor board, according to the resolution. On fourth offense, if the violator holds a food service license, that license will be reviewed for suspension by the county health department.

Council Member Pete Lesher was the lone no vote on the resolution. Lesher said he did not agree with the enforcement procedure that provided for an escalation of penalties for violators, as opposed to allowing for a fine imposition on first-offenders.

The council’s establishing a civil penalty for violators of the health safety mandates allows the county to avoid issuing the criminal citations outlined in Hogan’s order, which threaten up to a $5,000 fine and/or one year in jail.

County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley has said she “was not quite there” when it came to criminally citing non-compliers, and that’s why the order has not been strictly enforced to date.

Enforcement of the governor’s rules in Talbot County will be carried out by local law enforcement, the Talbot County Health Department and the Talbot County Office of Code Compliance.

The county’s now-outlined enforcement plan, the council members said, gives Wadley and other enforcers another tool in their toolbox to ensure compliance with health safety guidelines as Talbot continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

To view the governor’s full executive orders on which the county’s enforcement will be based, visit https://governor.maryland.gov/covid-19-pandemic-orders-and-guidance/ and locate the documents outlining “Masks and Physical Distancing” from April 15 and “Allowing Reopening Of Certain Businesses And Facilities, Subject To Local Regulation” from June 10.

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