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Legal Matters: Rules and restrictions governing the wearing of masks in Maryland

You hate face masks — who doesn’t? — so you decide not to wear one any longer.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent announcement moving Maryland into Stage 3 relaxed some restrictions put in place to deal with the coronavirus epidemic. But it did not mean we are all free to run around now with bare faces.

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An executive order is not legislation. It has not been adopted by the General Assembly, but the legislature does not have the legal right to overturn it. If legislators wanted to cripple the order, they could withdraw any funding needed to enforce it, although the order would remain on the books.

The order continued the requirement that all Marylanders over age 5 must wear face coverings when they are: on public transportation, indoors where members of the public are allowed to gather — such as religious facilities, retail and food service establishments — or outdoors in areas where they cannot maintain a distance of six feet from nonmembers of their households.

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The order allows Maryland businesses to reopen, with some capacity restrictions. Some facilities, such as senior citizen centers, are required to remain closed.

So, you throw your mask in the trash and go hang out at a local bar. First line of defense against your actions: the proprietor of a private business has a legal right to evict you, whether for behavior issues such as getting into a fight with another customer or for violation of a rule of the establishment.

Second line of defense: by not wearing a mask in an establishment open to the public, you are violating an executive order that applies to all Maryland residents and visitors. Could you be arrested? Yes. The bar fits the definition of an indoor facility where the public is allowed to gather, and may also be a food service establishment, so the order applies.

Hogan’s order leaves enforcement of face covering requirements to state and local police. In Carroll County, such enforcement can be a matter for city or town police, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office or Maryland State Police.

At least one arrest was reported locally earlier. State police arrested a Lutherville man in March for allegedly holding a party in Westminster where underage young people were served alcohol. The partygoers were reported not to be wearing masks, and were charged with violating the executive order.

Violation is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000. Between March and June — the most recent month for which data is available —120 people were reported to have been arrested for mask violations in the state.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan mandated masks on the boardwalk in late July. He hoped to make violations a municipal infraction with fines for violations, but the city council rejected the request, leaving violations as a misdemeanor. Possible penalties include up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

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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