Kemp extends executive orders, allows local mask mandates for the first time

Kemp extends executive orders, allows local mask mandates for the first time

ATLANTA — Gov. Kemp has extended an executive order banning large gatherings and instructing the medically fragile to shelter in place until August 31.

The order also addresses an ongoing dispute between Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Kemp over mask mandates.

The new executive order restricts local governments from issuing mask mandates on private property but allows local governments to make masks mandatory on public property. It’s the first time that Kemp has allowed for any form of local mask ordinance.

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Last month, Kemp sued Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council after Bottoms issued a mask mandate for the city of Atlanta and rolled back reopening guidelines to Phase One.

A judge ordered Bottoms and Kemp to participate in a mediation, but negotiations broke down after several weeks. Kemp withdrew the lawsuit on Thursday.

State officials told Channel 2 Action News that Bottoms wanted to mandate masks on private property like businesses and restaurants, but Kemp argued that a mask mandate on private property hurts businesses.

“This order also protects Georgia businesses from government overreach by restricting the application and enforcement of local masking requirements to public property,” Kemp said in a press release. “While I support local control, it must be properly balanced with property rights and personal freedoms.”

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Channel 2′s Michael Seiden reviewed the entire 49-page order and learned that the mask requirement can only be enforced on private property if the owner or occupant consents.

It also limits fines to $50, but authorities must issue a warning before writing a citation.

The order also makes it clear that fines can’t be levied against private businesses or nonprofits and it can’t be enforced against people on residential property.

Seiden checked with cities and counties across the state and found that nearly 100 cities already require face coverings on all government-owned property.

On Friday, Channel 2′s political reporter Richard Elliot traveled to Rockdale County, where officials had already implemented a mask mandate.

County Commissioner Sherri Washington explained why they defied the governor’s initial order.

“Because we’re trying to save lives,” Washington said. “We’re trying to keep our citizens healthy and we’re trying to keep them safe.”

On Thursday, a White House task force report warned that the spread of coronavirus in Georgia was “widespread and expanding” and officials “strongly recommend” a statewide mask mandate, which Kemp has opposed. On Friday, the governor’s office pushed back against the report, releasing a fact sheet it says shows Georgia experienced a decrease in cases last week.

“In Georgia, our statewide case numbers have dropped 22% over the last two weeks, and daily hospitalizations have decreased by 7% in the last seven days,” Kemp said. “We are on average testing over 31,000 Georgians daily at 180 SPOCs while maintaining a low rate of transmission. The positivity rate is on the decline, and the mortality rate continues to fall.”

Kemp said he encourages citizens to wear masks, social distance and continue to follow health and safety guidelines. He said the state is making progress in the fight against COVID-19.

Gov. Kemp expected to give local governments more leeway over masks in next executive order