Posted on

County moves to let officers write tickets for quarantine violations

Shortly after voting on June 12 to not extend the county’s COVID-19 local public health emergency by another month to July 17, the Clark County Board of Supervisors approved one measure that will give the county Sheriff’s Department a new tool to enforce illness quarantine orders and another that will allow employees to work from home, with a manager’s approval.

In a nearly 4 1/2-hour Board session that was dominated by coronavirusrelated debate and a 16-13 vote against the emergency order extension, supervisors did agree to allow law enforcement officers to hand out fines of $100 to $500 to citizens who violate orders to stay self-isolated if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has. The ordinance change gives law enforcement a more immediate means of dealing with people who willfully violate orders than has been available to date.

Under existing county ordinance, the only means law enforcement had to deal with a violation of a local health order was to refer them to the district attorney for a possible misdemeanor charge. That process takes time, said Public Health Director Brittany Mews, and the county does not have such time when it’s attempting to enforce an order to keep a possibly infectious person away from the public.

Since the county first declared a public health emergency on March 16, Mews said her department has been issuing quarantine orders for those who test positive for the virus and those who have been in close contact with them. As of June 12, Mews said 17 of the county’s 50 total COVID-19 cases were still active and approximately 100 people were being asked to quarantine.

Not all of them are complying.

The Health Department has been asking the Sheriff’s Department to send deputies to speak with people who are not self-isolating as requested.

“We continue to see a significant number of individuals who are not complying,” Mews said.

Sheriff Scott Haines said his department has not made any referrals to the district attorney for prosecution. He said officers “explain the quarantine order verbatim” to the people, but at this time do not have authority to issue forfeiture citations.

“Most people are compliant although there are some people who have not,” Haines said.

With passage of the ordinance revision, officers would be able to write citations, with possible forfeitures ranging from $100 to $500. It is hoped that the threat of an immediate monetary penalty would convince quarantine violators to comply.

“I don’t have time to wait a month (to petition the court),” Mews said. “This is something that will be immediate, if you are seeing you could receive a ticket … This would be a last resort. In some situations we’ve been dealing with, we feel it’s necessary.”

An ordinance revision such as this requires two readings by the county Board. The June 12 reading was the first, and a second one is still needed for final adoption.

The initial ordinance change presented to supervisors last week called for allowing the public health officer to also issue citations. The Board amended that provision out on a 25-3 vote.

Supervisor Tom Wilcox of Curtiss said he is uncomfortable having someone other than a trained law enforcement officer write a citation to someone who is seen to have violated an order.

“That person is not gonna be happy,” Wilcox said. “I don’t want to put our health officer at risk. I don’t think that’s smart.”

Mews said she does not need authority to write citations if the Sheriff’s Department can do it.

“As long as they have the time and resources,” she said. “As long as the response can be timely, I don’t care who does it.”

The Board voted 20-8 to add the new fines to its “Disease Control” ordinance. Voting against it were Bryce Luchterhand of Unity, Al Bower of Willard, Frieda Rollins of Granton, Ken Gerhardt of Neillsville, Fritz Garbisch of Granton, Bill Neville of Neillsville, and Nancy Amacher of Owen.

The Board also approved an amendment to its Employee Handbook to allow workers to do their jobs from home, if a supervisor approves it. Since the public health emergency took effect in March and county offices were closed to the public, numerous employees have been telecommuting. However, there was no provision in county rules to allow the activity in the absence of a health order.

County Personnel Director Janilee Zvolena said telecommuting has been a popular option during the shutdown with employees who have family members who are at-risk for COVID-19 infection. Now, she said, with the Board voting not to extend the emergency and the Courthouse to reopen this week, some of them may want to remain at home to do their work.

“I can guarantee you without a doubt that’s gonna cause some extreme concern for some employees,” Zvolena said.

In addition to giving employees with health concerns an option during a disease outbreak, Zvolena said a telecommuting policy will help the county attract and retain workers, improve morale, and lessen office space needs.

The new policy says employees will be allowed to telecommute “at the discretion of the employee’s department head.” Employees may not be allowed to work from home if it would impact service to the public.

The policy passed on a 28-0 vote.