Following a statewide face mask mandate imposed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz last week that went into effect on Saturday, one county sheriff has spoken up to say that his office will not take actions related to enforcing the mandate.
Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart said in a Facebook post on Sunday that he instructed his team that they “will not be actively engaged in any type of enforcement actions.”
Stuart stated that the mask mandate is a “public health matter, not a criminal matter” and that if his office receives a complaint directly, they will encourage social distancing and other related measures.
The statewide mask mandate was put into place by the Governor’s Executive Order 20-81 and went into effect on Saturday. The 14-page order requires that masks or face coverings shall be worn “in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces,” unless a person is alone (in an office or other setting). The mandate outlines exceptions for certain persons under the age of two or for those with medical or mental health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.
The mandate outlines a number of other exceptions to wearing masks. For example, the EO does not apply to Legislative proceedings and meetings or to proceedings held by the Judicial Branch.
The mandate provides that individuals could be found guilty of a petty misdemeanor and fined up to $100 for violating the mask mandate. Businesses found in violation could be fined up to $1,000 and the owner could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to 90-days in jail. Additionally, the order states that civil actions may be taken by Attorney General Keith Ellison or other city and county officials that could result in penalties of up to $25,000 against businesses found in violation of the mandate.
Sheriff Stuart pointed out that businesses have every right to establish their own policies requiring people to wear masks and can ask those who don’t comply to leave.
Once a person refuses to leave a privately owned establishment after being asked to leave, Stuart said, they could then be cited with trespassing or even arrested if circumstances warrant.
The mask mandate has come under heavy criticism from some sectors, including Republican lawmakers in Minnesota who’ve said that Walz does not have the legal power to create such a mandate and called his actions “heavy-handed.”
Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) went as far as to file a lawsuit with other Republicans against Walz in the matter. The lawsuit is currently awaiting a judge’s ruling.
It was reported on Friday that a number of large retailers and corporations including Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walgreens and CVS have announced that they won’t be enforcing mask mandates in their establishments. The companies have stated that they will continue to serve customers who don’t wear masks in their stores.
The decision was made, they say, in order to avoid confrontations between angry customers and employees. A number of skirmishes and even violent and deadly incidents have been reported in connection to businesses and mask requirements.
Sheriff Stuart stated in his message that local police departments may have different approaches to addressing or enforcing the mask mandate, and he was clear to say that he was only speaking on behalf of the Sheriff’s office in Anoka County.