Amarillo City Council to consider ordinance that would fine businesses for not enforcing face masks

The Amarillo City Council has called an emergency meeting for Friday to discuss possible fines for businesses not enforcing masks in Potter and Randall counties. Enforcement would cover all of Potter and Randall counties because they are a part of the same public health district.

"The ordinance I would propose, it would provide additional justification and opportunity for our businesses to exercise enhanced measures inside their facilities to make sure that their patrons are being safe. This is an effort to make sure they are taking care of their patrons. That they're not facilitating an environment where their patrons could pass on COVID-19 to each other or to their employees," Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller said.

City Council member Elaine Hays said she would not be in favor of the mask enforcment ordinance. 

"I am not supportive of this ordinance. I feel that our businesses currently are already under so much stress, so much pressure, they are struggling financially. I don't feel this is a healthy response and supportive of our businesses. 

"I absolutely hear what you're saying in trying to increase awareness on the masks. A punitive approach, I do not believe, is the approach we as a city want to go right now," Hays said.

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson and fellow City Council members Eddy Sauer, Howard Smith, and Freda Powell were in favor of placing the ordinance on an agenda for the Friday special session.

Miller said the proposed ordinance would follow Texas Health and Safety Code - Section 341.011. This sction of the health code addresses public health nuisances. 

"There's a section in there that defines as a nuisance - a site that does not follow minimum standards, because it's a place or condition that is possible and a probable medium of disease transmission in and between humans.

"Our draft ordinance changes that. So we have modified that language inside this ordinance to have it read - a site that does not follow the minimum standards established in this ordinance is a public health nuisance because it is a place or condition that's possible and probable medium of COVID-19 transmission in or between humans. This will be enforced by Environmental Health personnel and could also be enforced by police," Miller said.

Environmental Health workers would enforce ordinance starting with a warning but eventually the possibility of a fine up to $2,000.

"The purpose of this is to give some teeth to the governor's order The Texas Health and Safety guidelines do provide those measures, but this makes very clear that COVID-19 is one of the conditions that we're trying to protect against. And I think we can all agree there's nothing more significant that we're trying protect against right now than coronavirus.

"A citation is not issued upon first witnessing the condition that is a violation A notice of violation is issued - the entity or business has an opportunity to remedy or correct. The city employee who is charged with doing this would then revisit at some point in the future. If they witness it that second time or if the condition has not been corrected, then a citation would be issued," Miller said.