Steuben selectmen challenge mask rule

STEUBEN The town of Steuben’s Board of Selectmen unanimously passed a resolution Dec. 30 demanding state government nullify Governor Janet Mills’ Dec. 11 executive order on face coverings, according to a statement released by the town. 

The resolution, the Americans with Disabilities Act Preservation Resolution, was drafted by state Rep. William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) in response to the Governor’s Dec. 11 order, which eliminated previous exemptions for wearing face coverings in public spaces for those who have medical conditions and other disabilities. 

The Steuben resolution passed 3-0. 

“This resolution shall serve as a notice and demand to the state government to cease and desist any and all activities, acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations in violation of the Constitution of the United States and the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA],” the resolution reads.

The ADA became law in 1990 and is designed to protect those with disabilities against public discrimination.

In an email to The American, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Jackie Farwell, said, “The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that ‘the ADA does not provide a blanket exemption to people with disabilities from complying with legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operations.’”

She also stated that DHHS “continues to partner with organizations, such as Disability Rights Maine, to protect the health, safety and rights of all Maine people, including those with disabilities, as we work to stem the tide of this unprecedented and deadly pandemic.” 

She provided a statement from Kim Moody, executive director of Disability Rights Maine, who said, “People with disabilities, myself included, reject recent attempts to misappropriate our identities and misuse our vitally important and hard-fought civil rights protections as a form of misguided civil disobedience.”

“The vast majority of Maine people with disabilities wear face coverings when in the community because it is safer, and it is smart. And we want others to do the same, because many of us have compromised immune systems or are otherwise in high-risk categories,” Moody continued in the statement.

Faulkingham said there are a range of reasons some people are unable to wear masks, including having developmental disabilities.

“They’ve been banned from society,” he said, referring to the governor’s order. 

He also discussed veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “survivors of rape, men and women both,” for whom having their mouth and face covered “brings back trauma.”

Steuben Board Chairman Larry Pinkham, who initially reached out to Faulkingham as well as U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s office with his concerns, told The American, “I’m a disabled vet myself. I cannot wear a mask.” 

He said that the removal of the face covering exemptions made him feel like he was being told, “You’re faking [being disabled].”

The executive order is “taking away that person’s right to make reasonable decisions on their own,” Faulkingham said. 

Faulkingham said some constituents have told him they wear a clear, plastic face shield.

“There are places where [face shields] don’t pass,” he said, including the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Joint guidance from the Office of the Maine Attorney General and Maine DHHS states, “The Governor’s executive orders do not prohibit offering reasonable accommodations. Such accommodations may include offering the option of a face shield, allowing for take-out or curbside service or the use of the services of a personal shopper in the store (with audio or video if needed). Due to the direct threat to public health and safety, however, no such accommodation may make it permissible for any person to enter or remain in any indoor public setting without a face covering.”

According to Faulkingham, because the executive order did not come with funding to help businesses make these accommodations, it is “detrimental to smaller businesses and smaller stores” that may not have the ability to set up curbside assistance the way larger corporations can.

Town officials said Steuben businesspeople have shared concerns about the consequences for businesses that do not enforce the order, including losing operating licenses, 180 days imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. 

According to Selectman Eve Parkin, the executive order is “basically [making] these businesses the policemen [of the order].”

Tony Atwater of the Steuben Country Store was not part of the effort to create the resolution, but he said he has lost business by following the order because some customers will not wear a mask.

“If we don’t abide by [Governor Mills’] rules, we could be forced to lose our license,” Atwater said. 

He said the store has not received any notification from the state regarding the executive order.

“We saw it on Facebook,” he said.

He also said that a liquor inspector came to the store recently and told him that customers could be asked to take their masks off when their identification is being checked.

“It’s just so confusing,” he said.

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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