Sununu cracks down on COVID-19 Emergency Order violators

Gov. Chris Sununu is pictured at his regular Thursday news conference in Concord. (PAULA TRACY PHOTO)

By Paula Tracy, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD – Health inspectors and liquor enforcement officers may be heading out to bars and social events on a mission to thwart the spread of COVID-19.

They might see some police there or ask them to come along to any big event across the state because they now have the authority to shut the thing down under Gov. Chris Sununu’s new Emergency Order Number 65 issued Thursday night.

Law enforcers and health inspectors have the authority to show up unannounced at any business or event and close it down and/or issue fines per day per violation for violating any of Sununu’s emergency orders related to the pandemic.

“Any intentional or reckless breach of public health guidance, an Emergency Order, rule, or regulation issued under the State of Emergency that puts individuals at risk will not be tolerated,” Sununu said.

The $1,000 fine per day per violation would be a civil matter for any business or event organizer that “recklessly” violates any emergency rules, including the new one requiring masks to be worn for events with 100 or more people present.

“Any business, organization, entity, property owner, facility owner, organizer, or individual that recklessly violates any Emergency Order, rule, or regulation issued under the State of Emergency shall be subject to civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation or day that a violation continues,” the order states.

The attorney general has the authority to notify suspected violators of any Emergency Order of the state’s intention to seek a civil penalty or take any other enforcement action, to negotiate, and to settle without court action, it states.

Violations of any Emergency Order, rule, or regulation issued under the State of Emergency are subject to injunctive action brought by the state seeking compliance.

The Division of Public Health, working through its staff or local health officers, can close down an event, activity, business or immediately take enforcement actions for violations of the Emergency Orders, including imposing civil penalties.

Public health violations include a fine of $2,000 per day; failure to cooperate in an investigation of a potential violation comes with a $1,000 fine each day. Failure to cease operations upon notification of the Department of Public Health to do so incurs a $1,000 per day fine. And failure to comply with DPH instructions after notification of a positive COVID-19 test result will mean a $1,000 per day fine.

The business, organization, property owner, facility owner, individual, or

organizer of an event or activity can request a hearing.

Emergency Order 65 authorizes assessments of civil penalties against businesses, organizations, entities, property owners, facility owners, organizers, and individuals who violate emergency orders. A list of all the current emergency orders issued by Sununu is available at governor.nh.gov/news-and-media/emergency-orders-2020.

Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards said the State’s primary enforcement objective continues to be to inform and educate individuals, businesses, and organizations of the important public health goals of the Governor’s emergency orders and to work together toward compliance.

“Emergency Order 65 supplements the enforcement tools available to the State in the event that an individual, business, or organization refuses to engage with law enforcement or public health officials or openly defies the emergency orders,” she said.

New Mask Rule

New Hampshire’s many colleges and universities will be reopening soon bringing in thousands of out-of-state people.

New Hampshire also hosts Bike Week Aug. 22-30 with many events planned statewide, but it also hosts large golf tournaments and other gatherings potentially impacted by the new rule requiring masks for events over 100 people.

The individual not wearing a face mask would not be charged but the event holder or property owner would be.

At a press conference, Sununu said there will be no hanging out at bars in groups, no mingling. Restaurants and bars are going to have to follow the rules or there will be consequences, he said, focusing on their state liquor licenses.

The order comes as no shock because Sununu has repeatedly voiced his concerns about “late-night” bar scenes across the country being a super spread concern.

With students coming back to college towns that are now bracing for the impact, and some issuing their own town mask ordinances, Sununu said he would consider a curfew, or early bar closings, as a possible next step if necessary.

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