Calls grows for mask mandate, but leaders don’t agree on how to make it happen

State mask policy doesn’t go far enough, lawmakers and economic experts agree

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lt. Gov. Josh Green wants a special legislative session called so that lawmakers can create a clear policy when it comes to mask wearing.

“One single rule for the whole state,” Green said, adding that he wants the rule to be more specific and wants violators to be cited ― like a jaywalking ticket.

Currently, the governor’s emergency proclamation directs people to follow the mask mandate in the county they’re in. A growing chorus of onlookers say that’s led to confusion, including for visitors.

The current policy also means a violator faces a misdemeanor crime, which allows for a jury trial and can take months to resolve.

House Speaker Scott Saiki agrees the current set up is confusing.

“It’s not clear that there is a statewide mask ... order in effect now," he said.

However, Saiki wants Gov. David Ige to amend his emergency proclamation instead of calling back lawmakers for a special session. He said it would be too difficult for the state Legislature to draft a bill with details that lay out when a mask is mandatory.

And Saiki said it would complicate things later when masks are no longer required.

“So it really is easier for the governor, more practical for the governor to issue a proclamation,” he said.

Saiki does agree that the penalty for a violation needs to be dropped from a misdemeanor crime to a citation, but he doesn’t feel there is an urgency when it comes to making that change.

“My feeling is that that can be done in the regular session when we reconvene in January,” he said.

Medical experts say the number of new COVID-19 cases could be cut in half with a clear mask policy.

Hawaii Pacific Health CEO Ray Vara called the mandate “critically important."

“I think that its creating gaps for our community,” he added, of the lack of clarity on mask rules.

Green said the next few weeks could be difficult for Hawaii. More people have returned to work, travel continues to reopen and the holidays means more gatherings.

Carl Bonham, of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, said a mask mandate could make a huge difference for businesses, too.

“It seems to me that this is the no brainer for trying to avoid the next surge which leads to the next economic slowdown that we can’t afford to have," he said.

Ige, however, has been resistant to changing the existing rule.

In a statement, his office said the statewide mandate on masks already exists.

“With the governor’s approval, each county has issued its own specific guidelines unique to its community with minor variations," the statement continued, "Violations are misdemeanors, and counties handle the enforcement.”

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