TAMPA, Fla. -- While masks are mandated in several Tampa Bay counties in an effort to curb COVID-19, some are looking to challenge the orders in court.
The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group passed an order this week requiring the use of face masks, with some exceptions. Businesses are responsible for ensuring compliance under it.
“This lawsuit is not about the goodness or badness of whether or not one should wear a mask,” said attorney Pat Leduc. “This is not about masks this is about procedure.”
He and lawyer Jessica Crane say they’re preparing a lawsuit over the EPG’s order.
“It is bothersome in Hillsborough to see the businesses acting in this way or having to and then you’re putting your people against their neighbor,” said Crane.
“Don’t assume they're bad intentions here. There really aren’t,” said Leduc.
Attorneys argue the group itself has an improper delegation of powers and that its makeup violates the separation of powers.
“It’s important that our elected officials that their feet be held to the fire and that the Constitution be zealously protected. This virus is gonna come and God help soon go, but our Constitution is going to be with us,” said Leduc.
As for the order itself, they argue it’s vague and point to the responsibility placed on businesses.
“You can’t create a class of people subject to criminal penalty while everybody else who does the same exact thing is free and clear,“ said Leduc.
Commission and EPG Chairman Les Miller responded when asked about a potential lawsuit, noting concerns over the board’s authority.
“As far as I know, in this point in time, unless I’m told differently by the county attorney, the EPG does have the authority to establish that executive order concerning the masks,” said Miller.
“As far as I can tell, the authority for the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners -- back when they did create the EPG -- had the authority to create the EPG due to ordinance and that’s what they did,” he continued.
Thursday, a lawsuit was filed in Leon County over its mask order.
The same day, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikkie Fried voiced her support for a statewide mask order. She said in a statement:
“With 31,299 new cases in the past week alone, Florida has emerged as a new hotspot for COVID-19. While this pandemic threatens to spiral out of control, our leadership is rushing headlong into further re-opening the state. We must take basic protective measures immediately – that’s why today, I am calling on the Governor to issue a statewide order requiring masks to be worn in public places. This is common sense, violates no one’s liberties, and follows the lead of 18 other states like North Carolina, Kentucky, and New York. If we’re to beat this virus together, we must all act together, with all Floridians doing their part.”