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Legal Matters: People don’t have right not to wear masks, state price gouging law struck down

From the inbox: “Are you aware that state [police] officers are not required to wear mask(s) if they are stopping you for a violation?”

The emailer did not reveal the source of his information, but it is incorrect, according to a state police spokesman.

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“Maryland State Police troopers are required to comply with the Governor’s Executive Orders, which includes wearing face coverings during the performance of their duties,” Greg Shipley, state police spokesman, replied when asked about mask requirements for state troopers.

The mask requirements are aimed at places where people go or congregate, not at individuals in specific professions, such as police officers or schoolteachers. The toughened restrictions implemented by Gov. Larry Hogan in November 2020 require Marylanders to wear masks or face coverings in the public spaces of all public and private businesses, when they are using public transportation, and at all outdoor public areas whenever it is not possible to maintain physical distancing.

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The governor reiterated his order in a November press conference, where he stated that people do not have a right to refuse to wear a mask. The order requires individuals to wear masks in all public locations indoors and in locations outdoors where social distancing is not possible.

Opponents have claimed the governor’s executive orders requiring face coverings are unconstitutional. The opponents argue that coronavirus-related executive orders violate their rights to free speech, assembly and travel.

News media reported in December that Maryland State Police had made 132 arrests for violating the mask order or other COVID-19-related orders. The governor and other government officials have been pushing for more compliance with COVID-19 orders and threatening jail time, fines and business closures for those who disobey.

Meanwhile, some state residents trying to treat themselves – whether for COVID-like symptoms or other ailments – may find they have to pay more for some over-the-counter medications. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Maryland in its jurisdiction, recently struck down a state price gouging law that prohibited manufacturers or wholesale distributors – but did not specify retail sales establishments – from, “price gouging in the sale of an essential off-patent or generic drug.”

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There are some differences between the Maryland law and price gouging laws triggered during states of emergency. The Maryland statute was effective regardless of an emergency such as a pandemic, and defined price gouging as “an unconscionable increase in the price of a prescription drug.”

How much is an “unconscionable increase?” State law defined it as, “an increase in the price of a prescription drug that is excessive and not justified by the cost of producing the drug or the cost of appropriate expansion of access to the drug to promote public health; and results in consumers for whom the drug has been prescribed having no meaningful choice about whether to purchase the drug at an excessive price because of: The importance of the drug to their health; and insufficient competition in the market for the drug.”

Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Her Legal Matters column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times. Email her at denglelaw@gmail.com.

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