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County Commissioners start process to strip EPG's authority over county's pandemic response

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Posted at 6:58 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 18:58:52-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners started the process Wednesday in transitioning power away from the county’s Emergency Policy Group (EPG).

County Commissioners unanimously passed a motion to draft an amendment to the ordinance that created the EPG. The move would ultimately return emergency powers and authority to the Board of County Commissioners, including when dealing with the current health crisis.

The change would make it so the EPG handles only hurricane response.

Chairman Les Miller noted the ordinance that created the EPG dates back to the 1980s or 1990s, saying the county has changed a lot in that time.

“I’m also advised that we’re the only county out of 67 counties that has delegated our authority to a body with a membership such as the EPG,” said Miller. “The EPG has limited enforcement options, and the BOCC has broader authority and more enforcement options.”

The board will discuss the amendment at a meeting Tuesday, July 21, and it could then be up for a public hearing and vote on August 5.

Also during its meeting, the board approved a measure protecting people’s right to wear a mask in Hillsborough County. The ordinance means people will not be denied the right to wear a mask in any indoor or outdoor setting unless there’s a state or federal law against it.

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The ordinance states an employer can’t stop an employee or anyone else using a mask from going into their business. The employer can tell a worker not to wear a mask if that mask has unapproved words or logos, but then they must give the employee a mask they can use. Violators face a warning or a ticket.

“I’m confident there will come a time when our public health professionals recommend the removal of a mandate. However, many constituents will have a lot of fears and concerns about viruses, or the one we’re fighting right now,” said commissioner Kimberly Overman. “This ordinance would protect those citizens by allowing them to continue wearing a face covering if they so choose.”

County Commissioners also approved an agreement for the Tampa Sports Authority to use CARES Act funding up to $10.4 million for COVID-19 modifications to Raymond James Stadium. The changes will help convert the stadium to touch-free.

The project is broken into three phases, with proposed modifications including touch-free toilets, faucets, and soap dispensers. The plan also calls for hand sanitizing stations, PPE for event staff, and touchless ticket scanners. The Tampa Sports Authority anticipates the first phase of the project will be completed by October 31.