Concerns raised about Public Health’s proposed COVID-19 fines during public hearing

Department of Public Health and Social Services (PNC file photo)

The first of two public hearings was held Saturday afternoon to receive public comment and input on the Draft Rules Governing the Enforcement of Public Health Guidances and Directives during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.

Officials from the Department of Public Health and Social Services led by DPHSS director Art San Agustin were on hand to listen and respond to the public comments.

Several residents expressed concern about the proposed rules.

Dominic Hernandez says he has an issue with the fines, considering that there are 37,000 people who are unemployed and many businesses are shutting down.

“While I agree that people should follow the rules, at the same time, fining them is only going to make things more difficult. Many people are already struggling. The fines are a huge chunk out of their pocket,” Hernandez said.

He added that the rules and regulations, especially the fines, should go through legislation and the Legislature should be the one to ultimately decide.

“That way we have a better process and the issue can be debated and voted upon,” he said.

Sen. Jose “Pedo” Terlaje also joined the public hearing and said his main concern is who’s going to be doing the enforcement.

“How are we going to get the assistance of the police department or law enforcement? And the other issue that I’m concerned about is if a business is caught in violation on a particular evening — are we going to close that business right down in the same moment that they were caught violating the rules?” Terlaje asked.

Tom Jones, who described himself as retired military, said his main concern is about the effect of these proposed rules and regulations on private premises. Jones said the rules could authorize a “warrantless inspection of your home.”

“There’s also a distinct possibility that somebody could be in violation of a DPHSS directive that they weren’t aware of. So that’s a little bit of concern on my end for that. But in a broader sense, I appreciate all the hard work that went into this. This is a thankless job and I do appreciate all the work that everybody at DPH in our government is doing,” Jones said.

Sen. Wil Castro, who also participated in the public hearing, said he doesn’t agree with the rules because of an ambiguous understanding of “stay away from other people” provision.

“If I am on my property exercising next door with my son and with no one within 100-feet, that would not qualify under ‘medical care, food, and essential work.’ Also, does DPHSS intend to implement a ‘shelter in place’ directive under the suspension of these new rule-making power?” Castro asked.

The senator also wanted to know if there is a reason why the administration is not working with the legislative leadership on this matter.

“I’m communicating with my oversight chair and just realized that we have been removed from the process,” Castro said.

A second public hearing will be held on Wednesday, November 4, 2020, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. via Zoom Conference. Details will be announced in a separate public notice.

After the public comment period, all the comments will be taken into consideration and the draft rules will be defined and sent to the governor for her concurrence on whether to adopt the rules and provide them to all three branches of government.