Johnson County Board of Health approves language for a countywide face mask ordinance

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The Johnson County Board of Health unanimously approved the language for a countywide ordinance requiring face coverings in public during its special meeting on Tuesday evening. The board will vote on the ordinance during a special meeting on Monday.

After the ordinance is passed, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors can vote to approve it, which would make the ordinance legally enforceable, as Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness explained to the supervisors last week.

During its formal meeting Thursday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution mandating people wear face coverings in public spaces, in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Supervisors understood it would not be enforceable, but felt it was important to send a clear message about the importance of wearing face coverings.

The resolution was based on a draft proposal by the Board of Health that had circulated to the supervisors and the city governments in Johnson County. The proposal was also the basis the face covering order Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued on July 21.

Iowa City considers its mandate legally enforceable, even though both Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office claim cities and counties lack the power to require people to wear face coverings unless the governor expressly permits them to do so. Teague based his order on provisions in state law that allow a mayor to “govern a city by proclamation” if it is determined a “time of emergency or public danger exists,” as well as the Iowa Supreme Court decision that permits cities to impose “more stringent” standards than the state does, as long as those standards are not irreconcilable with existing state law.

But those provisions in state law apply to cities, not counties.

“Mayors have different authorities than the county does,” Lyness told the board during discussion of the resolution. However, Lyness said that an ordinance passed by the Board of Health and approved by the Board of Supervisors would be legally enforceable.

The Board of Health did make one significant change to the draft proposal language the Board of Supervisors relied on in its resolution, adding schools to the public spaces where people will have to wear face coverings.

The Iowa City Community School District had already decided to require students and staff to wear face coverings, but the Solon Community School District announced last week it would encourage students and staff to wear face coverings rather than require it.

The draft approved by the Board of Health on Tuesday would make a violation of the mask ordinance a simple misdemeanor. Anyone cited for violating the ordinance could be fined between $105 and $885. Violations of Iowa City’s mandate can also be cited as simple misdemeanors with the same fines. The mayor’s proclamation says citations will only be issued “as a last resort to obtain compliance.”

The Board of Health will be accepting public comment on the face covering ordinance prior to the vote on Monday. The board has not yet set a time Monday for its special meeting.

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