Commissioner proposes ordinance requiring Shelby County business owners to make customers wear masks

Commissioner proposes ordinance requiring Shelby County business owners to make customers wear masks

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A battle is brewing over an ordinance proposed by Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer.

The ordinance would require businesses in Shelby County to ensure their customers wear facial coverings.

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer says her proposed ordinance would help limit the potential spread of COVID-19 and is even more important as the Shelby County Health Department prepares to move into Phase 2 of reopening.

In the ordinance, business owners could face a $50 fee if they do not comply.

"This $50 fee would only happen if reported, and after a health department investigation, you're found to have a culture of non-compliance,” said Tami Sawyer, Shelby County Commissioner.

Earlier in the week, Shelby County Health Department Director Lisa Haushalter deferred to elected officials for any requirements to wear facial coverings.

Shelby County Commissioner Mark Billingsley released a letter Saturday written by Shelby County Attorney Marlinee Iverson, in which she states "the proposed ordinance is preempted by the Shelby County Health Department's Health Directive and Governor Lee's Executive Order" -- indicating the commission does not have the authority to institute a facial covering requirement.

Commissioner Sawyer disagrees with Iverson's assessment.

"One of our other county attorneys actually wrote and helped me frame this ordinance so I didn't just make it up,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer says she’s received angry responses from those who say government cannot force them to wear a mask or facial covering.

"I'm not attempting to infringe on your personal rights, I'm attempting to keep you, your families and our entire community safe,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer says she plans to make minor changes to her ordinance to help ground it legally before the ordinance has its first reading Monday during the commission meeting.

A similar ordinance in Memphis City Council requiring facial coverings in public passed in its first reading.

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