COVID penalty crunch talks

Parliament to debate fines for mask breachers, others

Published:Tuesday | March 23, 2021 | 12:16 AM

Commuters are seen in Frankfield, Clarendon, without face masks on Saturday, March 6. Tougher legislation, if passed, could see fines being imposed on persons who break the Disaster Risk Management Act.

Commuters are seen in Frankfield, Clarendon, without face masks on Saturday, March 6. Tougher legislation, if passed, could see fines being imposed on persons who break the Disaster Risk Management Act.

Lawmakers will today debate the Disaster Risk Management (Amendment) Act, 2021, which, among other things, will seek to introduce a ticketing system with fines for persons who refuse to wear a mask in public spaces.

The pending law sets out a range of tier one to 10 offences, with penalties starting from a low of $3,000 to a high of $500,000.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness warned on Sunday that with the passage of the legislation, persons who refuse to wear masks in public places could be ticketed.

Masks have been promoted by public-health experts as key to curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2.

Holness said it was agreed that the amendments to the Disaster Risk Management Act would be debated and passed to empower the police to take action for breaches of the law.

The primary focus of the Disaster Risk Management Act is the mitigation of the effects of natural disasters as a result of natural or man-made hazards.

While the legislation focuses on reducing the country’s vulnerability to natural and man-made hazards, the Government is taking steps to more effectively address the enforcement of measures to rein in the pandemic.

The memorandum of objects and reasons of the bill states that in the wake of COVID-19, the parent law is being amended to strengthen the provisions of the statute in order to combat “any conceivable calamitous event”.

It is proposed that Section 26 (1) (a) of the parent legislation be deleted to remove any “vagueness or ambiguity as to the circumstances which would lead to the declaration of a ‘disaster area’”.

Section 26 (1) (a) of the current law indicates that the prime minister may declare a disaster area where the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management reports to the minister the existence of any local condition in any part of Jamaica tending to endanger public safety.

The Government is seeking to amend the definition of ‘disaster’ to include events such as a hazardous substance incident, a nuclear or radiation emergency, as well as a pandemic.

The provisions of the act that deal with offences are being bolstered, according to the memorandum of objects and reasons, to make it an offence for failing to comply with measures set out in the law.

A fixed penalty regime is being inserted in the proposed law to provide the option of discharging the obligation associated with an offence, by payment of a fixed penalty.

editorial@gleanerjm.com