Face coverings likely will be required attire for most people when they’re out in public or doing business in the city of Santa Fe.
But first-time violators of what is already a state mandate are unlikely to get slapped in the face with a $50 fine.
The City Council’s Quality of Life Committee unanimously approved a proposed ordinance Wednesday that defines when face coverings must be worn. The proposal initially established a $50 penalty for each violation, but City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who chairs the committee and is the lead sponsor of the legislation, said she would work on amendments that include a warning for the first violation.
Though City Councilor Michael Garcia first questioned whether a staggered approach for penalties should be considered, Romero-Wirth said she already had asked for a change, adding the city doesn’t want to be in the business of issuing citations, which should only be a last resort.
“We want people to comply because they understand that this is the right thing to do and we want to be in a place where we’re educating and not being punitive, especially as folks get used to this new standard,” she said.
After the meeting, Romero-Wirth said she would be open to a discussion on progressive penalties, but she added it’s unclear if they’re necessary.
“I would rather focus our energy on education about why face coverings are an important tool in balancing reopening with public health and the mayor’s resolution to implement the ‘Santa Fe Promise’ campaign,” she said, referring to an effort to promote “a culture of public health to stem the tide of COVID-19 outbreaks and ensure a safe return to financial prosperity.”
Other possible changes to Romero-Wirth’s proposal include the age requirement, which is now set at 10, and when the requirement to wear face coverings would expire.
The proposed ordinance will be considered by the Finance Committee on June 1 and by the full City Council during a public hearing June 10. If approved by the council, the requirement would take effect immediately.
Under the proposal, face coverings would be required to be worn inside or while waiting to enter a public building; on public or private transportation; and while interacting with other people in outdoor spaces, such as during a curbside pickup at a restaurant.
Face coverings would not be required in personal vehicles, during outside physical activity or while drinking or eating, among other situations.
Asked by Garcia whether the proposed legislation violated constitutional rights or freedom of expression, Romero-Wirth said, “I see this like a seat belt law, and we have those.”
During a virtual news conference an hour before the committee meeting, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the state would soon be making thousands of face coverings available to the public.
“I need them and wear them,” said the governor, who mandated last week that everyone in New Mexico wear a cloth face covering in public, with a few exceptions.
“New Mexicans, remember that we are making thousands of masks and working diligently to get them out to you,” added Lujan Grisham, who kicks off each media briefing donning a face mask. “A first large batch of several thousand are on their way.”
Although the governor said she’s “noticed behaviors that aren’t quite there,” she also noted most New Mexicans are wearing face coverings.
“I want to give new Mexicans a shoutout,” she said. “By and large, they’re wearing them. I know that there’s some political discourse around the country. For us, it’s not about politics. This is about making sure that I keep you as safe as possible. That allows us to live in a COVID-19 world. That’s what we’re doing.”