A circuit judge Friday rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of a Leon County ordinance that requires people to wear face masks in businesses to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus .
Evan Power, a lobbyist who is chairman of the Leon County Republican Executive Committee, filed the lawsuit last month and is represented by state House member Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican who is an attorney. They raised a series of constitutional arguments, including that the ordinance violates privacy rights.
But Cooper, who announced his ruling after hearing arguments, cited evidence that face masks can help prevent the spread of the virus and said the ordinance has a “valid basis” to protect public health.
“I find that this ordinance does not violate any constitutional rights,” Cooper said.
The ruling came as many local governments across Florida have passed mask mandates — and as controversy has swirled around Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to issue a statewide mask requirement. Palm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler Beach all passed similar measures this week, with the Flagler County Commission considering one on Monday. Local officials, among them Sheriff Rick Staly and Rep. Paul Renner, have raised questions about the constitutionality of such mandates, while Staly has questioned the use of the word “mandate” in association with measures that carry no penalties for violators.
The controversy also has been fanned by President Donald Trump’s public appearances without a mask. Sabatini called local mask requirements a “novel step for government to take.”
But Drew Parker, an attorney for the county, said “context matters, and our current circumstances that we are dealing with matter.”
“The threat of COVID-19 is real, and the threat continues to evolve and spread,” Parker said, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Leon County Commission passed the ordinance June 23 amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the state. As of Friday morning, Florida reported 244,151 cases since the pandemic began, with 2,161 cases in Leon County. The county added 695 cases during the past week, state Department of Health figures show.
The ordinance requires people to wear masks inside businesses, with some exceptions. Violators can face a $50 civil fine for a first offense, a $125 fine for second offense and a $250 fine for third and subsequent offenses.
County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge testified Friday that one factor in deciding to pass the ordinance was that tens of thousands of university and community-college students are expected to return to the area in the coming weeks. Leon County is home to Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College.
DeSantis has repeatedly pointed to young adults as a main driver of the surge in coronavirus cases.
During Friday’s hearing, Cooper questioned Sabatini about other types of government mandates, including vaccination requirements for schoolchildren and a law that prohibits smoking in workplaces.
“We tell people whether they can smoke in their own business,” Cooper said.
But Sabatini drew a distinction between the smoking ban and an ordinance that deals with what people “attach to your face.”
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
If Trump wore and touted masks this would be a non-issue. They follow him like he’s their demigod. It’s sick really and scary. He’s a man that lies and cheats and didn’t even know the name of the woman that his son was with for 8 years. Think he knows or cares about you? Think again. You serve a purpose, the stroking of his ego and nothing more. Think I’m the sheep—think again.
Only Trump supporters don’t wear masks? Did you do a survey?
“My body, my choice”. How’s that grab you?
After the fact you look so foolish presenting this to the Court while people die and or contribute to the spread of the virus by listening to your legal mumbo jumbo bunk. lose lose lose
Paul Stevenson says
the masks are total bs, in my zip code where a mandate with penalties exist there have only been 304 cases of the virus, guess what, there are 38,000 people in this zip code, this is government using this virus for there only publicity stunts. I’m 71, if people want to wear a mask, or social distance, or stay in the house because they’re afraid of their own shadow that’s find with me. but don’t order me to wear a mask when it has “NOT” been proved it really makes a difference, and if you look at the facts the virus has been spreading even more now since all these face masks supposedly have been mandated. Even the mayor of Atlanta who did everything you are suppose to do, and guess who catches the disease. These masks could very well be the problem, nobody has proved why with all people taking the face masks seriously, yet the disease is rising dramatically, how clueless can you be. This could even be a conspiracy by our government to hold down the population. OH, you think that’s funny, but all of our politicians still put the hands on fake book called a bible and tell their kids that some kind of “god” entity is up there in space somewhere. btw, where’s the “science” for that. total bs.
You are correct. There is no standard for a mask that will provided any rated level of protection. When you add in the proper wear of any mask, how much will it protect you. Only a full face mask with bio filters will protect you from getting the virus. It will not protect others from getting it from you, as exhaled gas is not filtered. Exhaled gas from these flimsy masks with no filters will leak all over the place and become airborne. Will this airborne stuff magically drop at the six foot line? Good luck with that. It’s all a false sense of safety.
Billy C. says
Seriously, Paul? I’m 72 and I don’t know why I wouldn’t want the cooperation of everyone in the community to help keep me from having a virus end my life. Forget the statistics, you are only one person and that is the life that you need to guard and a mask helps you do that. You are a denier and nothing said will make you understand the reasoning for the mask. So, why not do the rest of us a favor and just cooperate. Thank you and have a nice day.
Flagler County Commissioners do what is right to protect the citizens of Flagler County. I still feel there should be fines given out to those that don’t comply. Look at the statistics and the virus is running out of control in the State of Florida. It will continue to spread and more lives will be lost unless we have a government that protects its citizens and also visitors. Does our government what to have to shut down again, no so start taking measures that may prevent that from happening again.
Thank you judge Cooper! We have to wear seat belts as well and that does not violate my personal right! Wear a mask or wear a body bag…I go for the mask as I also care for my fellow men. women and children. We all need to collaborate to get this monster virus under control and no matter what the one at the WH does! Yesterday I learned also of two more cases contracted in our heartland countryside in the middle of nowhere by a couple that I know, one of them is already in ICU. They believe caught while out to dinner without masks to enjoy their meal.
Art Schwartz says
There is no constitutional right to harm others.
We should have information as to which candidates are for social distancing and masks regarding those standing against it.
I also have more info on a local commissioner so would appreciate the reply.
Oh good. Now the wackos can go back to trying to regulate how low kids jeans are. Or they can get busy fighting that freedom-sucking “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Who will be first to walk naked into 7-11?
Concerned Citizen says
I wear a mask and do my part. I understand the need to slow this thing down but think about this.
A landmark decision was just made here. A Circuit Judge just ruled that local governments can make you do what they want with no consitutional oversight. Isn’t that a bit scary? Shouldn’t it be concerning?
Put your fears about Covid19 aside for a minute. First masks then what? Where does it stop once local governments have a certain authority? The purpose of the Constitution is to guarentee us specific rights. And it was just tossed out the window by a lowly Circuit Judge.
What happens next? If you don’t wear a mask are you tattooed with an M? And no I’m not being facetious here. Plenty of places in the world and thru out history people have been branded by for non compliance.
Times are changing. we are slowly loosing our freedom and way of life bit by bit. And all under a “pandemic”